Legendary Montserrat calypsonian William ‘Ruler’ Murrain dies at 76

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William "Ruler" Murrain performs "Fine Twine" in the Kings of Kings competition during Montserrat Festival 2002.

The Mighty Ruler never won a calypso crown. He didn’t achieve international fame. He didn’t earn riches. Yet he was an icon. He was a calypsonian to his core, untrained and undeniably gifted. Ruler’s lyrics were profound simplicity – from the plaintive Strain and Sinking Sand to his humorous opus Fine Twine. During a life marked by adversity, he was often judged unfairly – on stage and off – and defined more by his stumbles than his skill. But his legacy is forever woven into the fabric of Montserrat culture.

William “Ruler” Murrain – the organic calypso crooner, the gravelly-voiced balladeer, passed away Wednesday, May 12, 2021 at age 76. He had been boarded at the Margetson Memorial Home since suffering a stroke in late 2012.

“Ruler was the only 365-days-a-year calypsonian in Montserrat,” says Kenneth “Fisher” Fenton, one of Ruler’s calypso rivals from the 1970s. “Give him a guitar and he will sing for you anywhere and anytime.”

Born February 26, 1945, Ruler spent most of his life in Cork Hill but is originally from the east, in a tiny area called Killy Hawk Ghaut near Tuitt’s Village. His family moved to Cork Hill in the late 1950s and settled just west of Lansen Park, the village’s cricket field.

BOTTLES FLYING

As a teenager, Ruler got a job at Hamsey Allen’s sweet drink factory near George Street in Plymouth. An incident at the factory inspired one of his first calypso songs. When the soft drink bottles were capped they would sometimes shatter. Ruler received cuts on his arm one day and wrote a song called Bottles Flying.

In 1962 at age 17, Ruler was one of five entrants in the inaugural Montserrat Festival calypso show at the Secondary School. Justin “Hero” Cassell won that night, Alfred “Christo” Christopher was first runner-up and Ruler was second runner-up. It was the start of a two-decade-plus run in the calypso arena for Ruler.

“I consider Ruler one of the only natural calypsonians in Montserrat,” says Christopher, who was inspired to sing calypso because of Ruler. “A lot of us had to learn the art form. Ruler was a natural. He needed no coaching. He had a special gift.”

THE SHIRT INCIDENT

After one of the Festival calypso shows in the 1960s, Ruler was involved in an incident that would haunt him for years. In those days, the runners-up received modest consolation prizes. Ruler was given a Terylene shirt by local businessman Habib Hadeed during a presentation at the Vue Point Hotel. Already upset about his placement in the competition, Ruler saw the prize as an insult. He threw the shirt on the ground and walked on it.

“I believe that is one of the things that gave me trouble in Montserrat,” Ruler said of the incident during an interview in 2012, suggesting calypso judges were harsh on him following that defiant act.

In 1968, led by Alphonsus “Arrow” Cassell, Ruler and several other calypsonians boycotted the Festival calypso show to protest the meager cash prizes. The show went on despite just four competitors, all of whom were performing for the first time. In 1969, 1970 and 1971, there was no Festival calypso show. The show returned in 1972, and Ruler was also back.

Through the rest of the 1970s and up to 1986, Ruler was an annual crowd favorite. In 1974, he recorded the mega-hit Fine Twine, but for reasons that remain muddled, he didn’t sing it during the competition. He finished second runner-up.

Justin “Hero” Cassell, left, and Alfred “Christo” Christopher visit Ruler at the Margetson Memorial Home on March 27, 2017. The three men competed in the first Montserrat Festival calypso competition in 1962.

ALWAYS OUTSPOKEN

Ruler was brash and outspoken and he often utilized gamesmanship in an effort to gain an edge during the calypso season.

Fisher, who hails from St. John’s Village, recalls a particular incident. “On the day of the calypso show Ruler stopped every bus coming from North and told the people to tell me that I shouldn’t show up in the park because he’s going to destroy me.”

Ruler also had a much-ballyhooed rivalry with another calypsonian, 1977 monarch Ishmael “Cutter” Skerritt, often poking fun at the bespectacled Salemite and vowing to defeat him.

Ruler’s popular songs during the ’70s and ’80s included Time For Mas, Stop Sing Calypso, Woodum Boom, Demons Pon Me and the suddenly ironic All a We Got To Go. He participated in the calypso finals for the last time in 1986 when Hero captured the crown.

“He always brought intensity to the competition,” Hero says. “He pushed you to be your best. He was a grassroots calypsonian. The only thing that would affect his delivery was when he had a certain product made from sugar cane.”

TRYING TIMES

In 1991, Ruler was struck by a speeding bus in Cork Hill and knocked unconscious. He spent weeks in the hospital and was unable to speak for some time. He recovered to some extent, but some close to him say he was never the same.

Following the volcanic crisis and the evacuation of Cork Hill in 1997, Ruler lived in Salem and earned a living through landscaping.

In 2002 he competed in the Kings of Kings calypso competition to commemorate 40 years of Montserrat Festival. He sang Fine Twine and entertained the crowd with some of his customary stage antics.

In 2007, a William “Ruler” Murrain Crowd Favorite award was added to the Festival calypso show, with audience applause determining the winner.

Asked if Ruler’s failure to win the calypso crown is a stain on his legacy, both Fisher and Hero say no.

“He made his contribution – and that’s foremost,” Hero says. “He didn’t have to win the crown to prove his worth.”

Fisher summed it up: “Ruler was the people’s calypsonian. He was the people’s king.”

Mighty Ruler reveals his favorite song on December 30, 2010.

Mighty Ruler's notable songs

Bottles FlyingParty CrasherStop Sing CalypsoSoca Madness
Hold Fast and SteadyWoodum BoomChanges in LifeFine Twine
Time for MasMash Up Me Big ToeDemons Pon MeBeautiful Montserrat
Sinking SandAll a We Got To GoStrainWash Way

Ruler Trophy winners (crowd favorite)

The William "Ruler" Murrain award, determined by crowd applause, was introduced in the Montserrat Festival calypso competition in 2007.

YearCalypsonianPopular song
2007Vickie "Storm" LockerThe Storm
2008Rondell MeadeI Love My Festival
2009Davon "Rackatang" WilliamsLiquor in Front, Poker Behind
2010Neilson "Tiger" DuberryI Just Can't Wait
2011Garnett "Sylk" ThompsonNever Give Up
2012Alexander "A.J." CassellThe Pedigree
2013Baptiste WallaceDracula System
2014Keithroy "De Bear" MorsonGot To Go
2015Steve "Iceman" WeekesNar Sell Out
2016Garnett "Sylk" ThompsonGimme De White Man
2017Baptiste WallaceFire In De Bambi
2018Stevel "Mighty Soca" RodneyWhat We Need is Unity
2019Herman "Cupid" Francis200 Million to Spend
2020Keithroy "De Voice" MorsonCall Daddy

1 COMMENT

  1. Wonderful piece Mr Martin. Ruler left his mark, and this will help to preserve it. In meantime you too are writing your way into our history.

    #CorkHillMassive

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