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RAMASES

Prog Folk • United Kingdom


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Ramases biography
One of those weird excentric figures of the late 60's, M. Raphael from Sheffield claimed to have been visited by the most famous Pharoah and renamed his wife Selket (an Egyptian divinity) and started dressing up strange , recorded two very rare (and unsuccesful) singles before re-surfacing with a full band that released two albums on the famous Vertigo label and a stunning fold-out artwork sleeve from in-house designer Roger Dean.

Among the members of the new group he had formed, the nucleus of the future 10CC group (Godley Creme Gouldman & Stewart) played central roles and many superb harmonies and inventive, catchy hooks of this Space Hymn album will remind you of the pop-extraordinaire group that later graced the hit charts of the mid and late 70's. An absolutely delightful cult status album every proghead should own, that was a followed e few years later by a much less famous second album Glass Top Coffin (but without the 10CC members) which still has moments of brilliance. To my knowledge this second album has yet to have a Cd re-issue.

RAMASES's two unusual albums are definitely worth the inclusion of the ProgArchives for their quiky pop-rock tracks with strong progressive overtones and inventive songwriting

: : : Hugues Chantraine, BELGIUM : : :

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Complete DiscographyComplete Discography
Storm Vox Records 2014
Audio CD$27.69
$39.69 (used)
Space HymnsSpace Hymns
Extra tracks · Import
Repertoire 2004
Audio CD$9.12
$9.96 (used)
Glass Top CoffinGlass Top Coffin
Import
Esoteric 2010
Audio CD$10.64
$15.13 (used)
Glass Top Coffin by Ramases [Music CD]Glass Top Coffin by Ramases [Music CD]
Esoteric
Audio CD$46.46
Street Sweep EPStreet Sweep EP
Netweight
Vinyl$16.24 (used)
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RAMASES top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

2.88 | 32 ratings
Space Hymns
1971
3.54 | 15 ratings
Glass Top Coffin
1975

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RAMASES Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Space Hymns by RAMASES album cover Studio Album, 1971
2.88 | 32 ratings

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Space Hymns
Ramases Prog Folk

Review by friso
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Rameses - Space Hymns (1971)

Together with Alphataurus this vinyl reprint has perhaps the most inpressive artwork in my collection. When folded out you get to see a spaceship that was part of a big church in a romantic scene. But what's the music about?

Psychedelic folk songs with some space-influences and many repetive vocal parts, sometimes a bit like chanting. The first and the last track have some progressive rock leanings. The lyrics are actually the weak point, though some lines are catchy like the slightly freakish "What to say to the Earth people?". I actually like the concept of finding some catchy psychedelic/folky phrase and giving it some time to settle in. I like it when atmospheres aren't ruined by needless interventions, like so often happens in progressive rock music. Some people mention the weaker tracks, but I myself only dislike the second track 'Hello Mister' which is a bit too simple and repetitive. Other songs like the often critisized like 'Balloon' and 'Jesus Come Back' I really liked, the latter reminds me a bit of Pearls Before Swine. The recording and soundeffects are really good.

Conclusion. Well let's be honest, how many psychedelic folk records with space rock influences are there? Just give it try! It's not hard to digest. Three stars, add a star if you like to listen to rare music.

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 Space Hymns by RAMASES album cover Studio Album, 1971
2.88 | 32 ratings

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Space Hymns
Ramases Prog Folk

Review by Evolver
Special Collaborator Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams

2 stars This album was recorded by Ramases and Selket, a British couple who claimed to have been visited by dead Egyptians, and took their names (go figure). What helped them immensely was their back up band, the original members of 10CC, who had just recently had some airplay from the album they had recorded as "Hotlegs".

The sound, to me, is a blend of late 60's psychedelia, like Jefferson Airplane, and the trippy space rock of Daevid Allen's Gong. And while the music is fair, especially where the 10CC sound manages to get through, the proto new age and possible acid induced naive lyrics tend to make this effort mostly tedious. In fact, the insipid Come Back Jesus is simply painful to listen to.

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 Glass Top Coffin by RAMASES album cover Studio Album, 1975
3.54 | 15 ratings

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Glass Top Coffin
Ramases Prog Folk

Review by Matti
Collaborator Neo-Prog Team

4 stars This is my 500th review (unless my one and only rating without review messes the number). I haven't heard Space Hymns which is much more famous - thanks partly to the Roger Dean art work and the future 10cc playing on it. This one was a sad commercial failure and made Ramases (Martin Raphael) to withdraw himself from music business. Co-produced with keyboard player Barry Kirsch, it's a very charming, naiive, soft-folkish album and I'm surprised to see only three reviews of it!

The slow, majestic opener 'Golden Landing' has a female choir and orchestra. 'Long, Long Time' is a very atmospheric song, 'Now Mona Lisa' a solid folk song featuring both Ramases and Sel(ket) as vocalists. I had this kind of an association with this serene and fairly romantic album: dreamy folk hippies accompanied by Barclay James Harvest plus a light orchestra of Emmanuelle soundtracks. May not be very much progressive rock, but beautiful nevertheless. The title track with more biting rhythm breaks the mood a bit, as the ethearal 'Children of the Green Earth' has even the charming cliche of whispered backing vocals. I think this work captures well the fragile spirit of the artist, who committed suicide in 1978.

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 Glass Top Coffin by RAMASES album cover Studio Album, 1975
3.54 | 15 ratings

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Glass Top Coffin
Ramases Prog Folk

Review by Sean Trane
Special Collaborator Prog Folk

4 stars Apparently the Vertigo label sold sufficiently enough of Space Hymns for them to allow the weird Ramases to record a second and much more ambitious album with a consequent budget. Indeed Glass top Coffin is loaded with expensive and extensive strings arrangements, courtesy of both the London Symphonic Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, but also the Eddie Letter Chorale. Gone are the four future 10CC members (gone to found Hotlegs first), and most of the pop charm of the SH. Well the label was cautious enough not to spend anymore cash in creating such an ambitious six-folded artwork of the debut, but they still designed a cosmic gatefold sleeve with an even more amazing innerfold. BTW, if SH had been on the legendary "Swirl" label, GTC was released on the even better suited for the "Spaceship" Vertigo logo in 75 (four years after SH, but not much is known about their activities), but unfortunately never managed to be detected by the chart's radars.

Opening on the bookending Golden Landing with heavy strings, we are first lead to believe that The Moody Blues created a Nights Of The Past Future album, but this doesn't last past the track. Te following long time starts out as a slow acoustic piece gradually softly crescendoing with a cello and violin first, then once cruising speed reached, the strings come in for some cool enhancements. There are a few lesser tracks like syrupy Now Mona Lisa, then later Sweet Reason (Lisa is back) and still later the soppy and waterfall-soaked folky Stepping Stone.

Other tracks are rather cool like the religious-like chants of God Voice (again sonically the Moody Blues are not far away) or the spacewinds-filled Mind Island, where Nucleus' Bertles adds a soft sax parts. The Island's winds segue into cosmic blasts and cello drones, to lead Selket's plaintive voice in the ultra-slow Loneliest Feeling. Later in the album's course, Saler Man is an outstanding piece of symphonic prog that puts to shame Moodies or many others that dabbled with Orchestras. The awesome Children Of The Green Earth has some borderline-Spanish guitar and lush orchestrations than enhance the song, rather cheeseing it up. GTC's title track is quite a departure though, definitely the (almost hard-) rockiest song on GTC, it's almost shocking compared to the finesse of most tracks, but I guess it is the climax of the opera, before the calm second Golden Landing piece, filled with cheesy strings.

Not as immediate as their debut album, GTC is still quite worthy and is more in the space- rock realm than in the folk-rock genre of SH. In some ways GTC is proggier and could maybe be considered as a space opera. Like the previous Space Hymns, the album sank without a trace and the couple disappeared for good from the music scene (Ramases committed suicide later in that decade), but both album gathered big cult-following in Germany, enough to receive a few Hymns reissues and now finally the much-awaited for (and more mature) GTC on Esoteric records. And if you listen well enough, you won't be deceived.

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 Space Hymns by RAMASES album cover Studio Album, 1971
2.88 | 32 ratings

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Space Hymns
Ramases Prog Folk

Review by Eetu Pellonpää
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars This album has quite acoustic-oriented sound, starting with a guitar, percussion and flute leading to an amplified mellow psych rock grooving. The religious flavored spiritual folk elements resemble little The Incredible String Band's sound and style, some rarer heavier phases then maybe Uriah Heep with dense layers of cosmic synths, and the accessible compositions are done in the way of The Beatles. Fusion of British psych folk rock tones united with ethnic themes resemble the sound of early Jade Warrior records also. Some moments have nice atmospheres, few songs are then quite simple fun-having mostly. In addition of some more impressionistic moody tracks, there are also some quite straightforward songs on the album. For me especially folky "And The Whole World" was a pleasant moment for me as a pretty hippie anthem, "Earth People" had also nice sound ambiences with nice melodies, and mystical moods of "Molecular Delusion" were pleasant. A nice record, which somehow associates with Absolute Elsewhere's album, not so much musically, but both being supernatural & cosmic themed progressive rock curiosities.

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 Glass Top Coffin by RAMASES album cover Studio Album, 1975
3.54 | 15 ratings

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Glass Top Coffin
Ramases Prog Folk

Review by stefro
Prog Reviewer

2 stars Finally available on CD after a long hiatus, the second studio album from Ramases comes to us via the excellent re-issue label Esoteric Recordings. Featuring a much more expansive sound that seems like the product of better recording facilities and a bigger budget, 'Glass Top Coffin' is a slicker, better-produced album than it's predecessor but one that unfortunately fails to learn from 'Space Hymns' mistakes. Originally a jobbing electrician from Sheffield(a northern town in the UK), Ramases was a strange figure obsessed by Egyptian gods and mythology who would eventually commit suicide in the mid 1980's. His first album was a zany, unfocused affair featuring at least one terrific song in the shape of the rocking 'Life Child', but little else of interest bar the superb Roger Dean artwork of a church- cum-space rocket launching into the stratosphere. However, the actual musicianship on 'Space Hymns' was top class thanks to the fact that our man was backed by the four musicians who would, in time, go on to form the successful pop band 10cc. But despite 'Life Child' the rest of the album would prove disappointing, made up as it was of strange little folk songs, slow ballads and weak psychedelia, all of it penned by Ramases and his equally nutty wife but played very professionally by the temporary backing band. Sadly, the 10cc foursome are absent on 'Glass Top Coffin', instead replaced by a syrupy, 1950's-style orchestra that proves both tacky and frustratingly slow. Again, like in 'Space Hymns', there is only one genuinely good song, this time in the form of the funky title-track , and that aside 'Glass Top Coffin' turns out to be nothing more than just another uninspiring slab of out-dated sci-fi themed psychedelic pop. Fans of 'Space Hymns' and all things quirky will probably delight in the fact that 'Glass Top Coffin' has finally been given a proper, remastered released; the rest of us will shrug our shoulders and move on to the next 'lost classic' from the Esoteric archives. STEFAN TURNER, LONDON, 2010

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 Space Hymns by RAMASES album cover Studio Album, 1971
2.88 | 32 ratings

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Space Hymns
Ramases Prog Folk

Review by SouthSideoftheSky
Special Collaborator Symphonic Team

1 stars Space Hymns are a very repetitive type of hymn, almost like a mantra. Space Hymns are a very repetitive type of hymn, almost like a mantra. Space Hymns are a very repetitive type of hymn, almost like a mantra. Space Hymns are. Oh, I'm sorry, I fell into a kind of bored trance from listening to this album. This Ramases guy really repeats himself a lot. Most of the lyrics consist of one line being sung over and over and over and over, almost like a mantra. It is almost never offensive, only very boring. And, did I mention, repetitive?

The instruments involved are mainly acoustic guitars. But occasional drums, sitar and discrete Moog and flutes can be heard. The vocals are both male and female, and repetitive to extremes. Repetitive to extremes. Repetitive to extremes.

Ramases must be character hard to have any social interaction with, unless you have a lot of spare time and don't get bored easily. Maybe he lives by the philosophy that repetition is the mother of all knowledge? Well, despite all the repetition, I don't really remember anything about the music. And I most certainly did not learn anything from it! All the songs sound quite similar, so if you have heard one of them, you have heard them all basically.

I guess Ramases was on something when he created his Space Hymns, and I guess that the listener will have to be on the same thing in order to enjoy them.

Do yourself a favour and don't bother with these Space Hymns. Sorry Ramases!

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 Space Hymns by RAMASES album cover Studio Album, 1971
2.88 | 32 ratings

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Space Hymns
Ramases Prog Folk

Review by stefro
Prog Reviewer

2 stars One of those one-off albums that could only have been brewed-up in the heady musical atmosphere of the sixties, RAMASES(really a jobbing electrician from Sheffield) somehow managed to coalless most of the line-up of future eclecto-pop merchants 10cc(them of DREADLOCK HOLIDAY fame) into producing the wonderfully-titled and utterly bonkers SPACE HYMNS. Accompanied by Ramases' wife, the mystically-monikered 'Sen', SPACE HYMNS is, unfortunately, a fairly risible mixture of early prog, folk, psychedelic pop and bizarre spiritual meanderings. The words 'pretentious' and 'indulgent' spring to mind all too readily when attempting to encapsulate in a few media-friendly soundbites just how SPACE HYMNS comes across, but, happily, it's not all junk. In fact, opener 'Life Child' is a barnstormingly psychedelic, all-out freak-folk rocker featuring incredibly tight interplay between the soon-to-be popular backing band, and as the zen-like cod philosophy of the later cuts has yet to kick in, Ramases lyrics - something about a strange, space-age child - actually compliment the piece nicely. It's a shame, because the creators seemed to have decided to include this as their one-and-only proper rock-song, and the talent, invention and hunger of the musicians really shines right through all the murky babblings and cryptically-constructed passages. However, 'Life Child' asides, the rest of the album is a big disappointment. No-one seems to have told Ramases(or his wife Sen) to include actual tunes, and the remainder of the album is split between sub- donovan folk-vignettes and feeble psychedelic rock, complete with silly voices and stupid wordplay. Only 'Oh Mister', a kind of afro-inspired bongo-ditty, is worth perservering thru, and even that becomes slightly repetive towards it's chanting, pseudo-hippie end. 'Life Child', novelty-value and the stunning early Roger Dean sleeve aside, 'Space Hymns' is an album seriously lacking in focus. One wonders what a proper producer could have made of it.

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 Glass Top Coffin by RAMASES album cover Studio Album, 1975
3.54 | 15 ratings

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Glass Top Coffin
Ramases Prog Folk

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

4 stars Martin Raphael aka the reincarnated Pharaoh known as Ramases, seems to have both refined his musical talents and toned down his astral-religious message for this, his second and final album. Well, the message is still pretty out-there, but it’s either more restrained now or the quality of the music just makes it more palatable. Either way, this is a pretty different record than his ‘Space Hymns’ debut, most notably thanks to the absence of the quartet of backing musicians who had gone on to fame and fortune as the band 10cc in the four years since ‘Space Hymns’ released.

But there’s still plenty of name-dropping associated with this record. The late Colin Thurston plays bass here on the eve of his big breaks as studio producer for Iggy Pop (‘Lust for Life’) and David Bowie (‘Heroes’). Sue Glover and Sunny Leslie (Brotherhood of Man) provide backing vocals, and Bob Bertles of the jazz group Nucleus plays saxophone. But most notable is the orchestral accompaniment courtesy of the Royal Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestras. So instead of Godley and Creme’s pop sensibilities accentuating Ramases’ bizarre post-hippy madness, there is a bevy of strings lending the songs an air of sophistication. For the most part it works.

Some of Ramases' other musical tendencies are still evident here though, including layered guitar chord changes caked with repetitive, pseudo-spiritual chanted backing vocals on tunes like “God Voice”, “Sweet Reason” and “Stepping Stones” that hearken back to so many late sixties communal hippie bands like Comfortable Chair, Sapphire Thinkers or even the Mamas & the Papas. There’s also a persistent perception that these two are actually serious about their odd metaphysical message, which tends to give songs like “Golden Landing” and the title track an air of naivety.

But overall this is mostly another excellent though obscure seventies space/pop record that just happens to have an added dimension to it because of the very odd man who made most of the music here. Raphael was reportedly very upset with the final packaging with its gatefold opening to a space scene showing a bird that seems to be a cross between a pterodactyl and a mythical phoenix. He wanted the cover (which showed a profile of a man falling into a star cluster) die-cut so it would open to reveal the man being one small part of the larger bird. This would have been similar to his first album cover with its Roger Dean cover that showed a space ship launching but opened to a spectacular three-fold liner that revealed the ship being the steeple of cosmic church.

Whatever Martin Raphael aka Barrington Frost aka Ramases believed and whatever his agenda might have been, he did have an undeniably good ear for a catchy musical hook and seemed to also have enough connections in the business to engage talented collaboration on both of his records. He also didn’t seem to mind adopting aspects of popular contemporary music into his own, while still retaining an overall space-rock-meets-the-Moonies vibe. This is the kind of record that will quickly grow on you as long as you don’t take it too seriously and aren’t looking for technical sophistication.

The story behind this record, coming four years after his 10cc-backed and very engaging debut, is that Mr. Raphael and his wife (by now renamed Sel) had finally found a way back home to their place in the cosmos and were putting this record out as a farewell message to the world. I’m just jaded enough, and remember the seventies well enough, to think this whole gig could have just been a hoax that took on a life of its own and was never corrected by the label or musicians themselves because it suited their needs. Sort of like the whole Klaatu/Beatles thing. If so this sort of backfired with Ramases since the album sank like a stone on release and the guy was never heard from again.

But anyway, what’s here is pretty decent and I like to play it. This was a very late discovery for me (as in – this year), because I’d never heard of this guy back in the seventies, and probably wouldn’t have liked his music then even if I had heard it. Playing it today evokes a little bit of a nostalgic feeling as the sound here is very firmly rooted in the seventies.

The album opens with “Golden Landing”, a track that shows Selkat’s vocal dynamics have improved considerably since their first record. The stoned monotone is largely gone, and while she doesn’t have great range, the sound works well with the communal harmonized backing singers and gentle string arrangement. Raphael comes in with a sort of Harry Nilsson thing going on, except without Mr. Nilsson’s range. There are actually hints of a mainstream sound in the spacey composition, and these emerge at times on subsequent tracks as well.

Such as with “Long, Long Time” where Raphael unintentionally nails exactly what the late Roy Orbison would have sounded like with orchestral string backing. Also much in the vein of Orbison, this appears to be a love song of sorts from Ramases to Selkat, but in true Ramases fashion the strings morph at the end to a “Space Oddity”-like arrangement that seems meant to represent the two of them flying off into space for home.

Raphael was a guy who had a different view of the world, and who also knew how to turn a phrase when it came to song lyrics. “Now Mona Lisa” is one of the more unusual examples of both these qualities. Musically the song is pretty simple with acoustic guitar, bass and piano in a fairly innocuous arrangement, and with Raphael and Selkat engaged in call-response vocal interplay. But the subject matter is apparently the Mona Lisa painting and the wants, needs, desires and aspirations she may have had in life. This is one of those tunes whose genesis was clearly formed in a haze of smoke, but it has charming qualities that make for fun listening more than thirty years later.

Bob Bertles (Nucleus) shows up on “Mind Island” with gentle saxophone to accent Raphael’s meandering vocals telling of experiences on a ‘mental island’ he finds himself on. This is one of the tracks that doesn’t work so effectively; or may have in the seventies and simply hasn’t aged well. “Only the Loneliest Feeling” falls into the same category only here Selkat is singing and there’s a preview of the kind of disjointed cello bowing that Efrim Menuck would reintroduce with Godspeed You! Black Emperor twenty years later. I wonder if that makes Ramases ‘proto-post-rock’? I’m actually having a bit of trouble mentally processing that.

Orbison’s muse reappears on “Sweet Reason”, and this is another composition that is more of a gentle pop tune than anything else.

If I had to pick one song as the strongest it would probably be “Saler Man”. The interplay of orchestral strings and piano is quite beautiful from a purely musical standpoint, and Raphael finds his own voice for a change instead of sounding like someone else. The lyrics are all over the place and seem to be a synopsis of Ramases’ whole theology and life-view condensed to five minutes. This is actually a fairly evolved composition for 1975, and plays well even today.

Ramases and Selkat seem to be winding down and preparing for their return trip home to space on “Children of The Green Earth” with talk of children of the earth, sun and stars and urging them all to converge on the “star field” where their destiny awaits. Anyone feel like donning black Nikes and heading for a spin behind Hale-Bopp?

I don’t understand the inclusion of the title track. It comes off as what Elvis would have sounded like if he’d put out a new wave record in the mid eighties: simple and thudding bass, plain rock rhythm from the electric guitar and drums, and not much other accompaniment. The transitions are pure mainstream rock, and even though Raphael’s lyrics describe a space reunion of souls, the whole thing comes across as late seventies schlock-rock. The weakest track on the album as far as I’m concerned.

But the whole thing comes full circle with “Golden Landing (Part II)” and Ramases and Selkat come gliding down toward home amid a very Moody Blues-like string and synth arrangement that includes celestial backing from a couple former Brotherhood of Man vocalists. A very tasteful and pleasant ending.

Martin Raphael and Selkat never released another album after this, and eventually the two of them drifted apart. Selkat is reported to be still around today although she maintains a low profile and there is almost no information on her whereabouts or activities. She does not appear to be doing anything musical. Raphael committed suicide in the early nineties, having never realized his dreams of either musical renown or trips into space back to his astral home. There is some evidence he had been working as a DJ at the time of his death, but I haven’t found anything to confirm that.

Ramases were one of the more unique and unusual musical acts of the seventies. They were either a fabrication of their own or their label’s making; or a couple of really odd individuals who were engaged in their own tripped-out cosmic journey several years after that had ceased to be fashionable. Either way their albums are neither classics nor essential, but both of them are quite good and full of fascinating bits of history and philosophy and theology and musical experimentation and just plain trivia. ‘Space Hymns’ has been reissued numerous times and is quite easy to find today. “Glass Top Coffin” has never been re-released to my knowledge, although the original vinyl is not too difficult to find. There seem to be an unusually high ratio of promo copies to released versions though, and either type of copy can be pricey. I’ve seen used ones in the $25-$40 USD range, while mint copies run up to several hundred dollars. If you’re interested in the band and aren’t put off by the occasional pop or scratch, find a reasonably-priced old promo copy. I don’t think it’s worth buying a $300-$500 mint edition because you won’t get that many dollar’s worth of enjoyment out of it, but I suppose some obsessive and serious collectors probably have done so anyway.

If there were ever a strong candidate for remastering and re-release on CD it is this album; I’m actually quite surprised Repertoire and PL have both put out CD versions of Ramases’ ‘Space Hymns’ albums (in several countries no less), but this one has yet to see the inside of a jewel case. Considering Raphael’s oddities and state of mind and affairs following this release, I wonder if the original tapes may have been lost to time. Still, there are unplayed mint copies of the vinyl floating around and you’d think someone could make that work on a CD. The production quality (except for the slightly muddled “Mind Island”) is excellent, by the way. Que sera, but I hope this one gets noticed by one of the progressive rock reissue labels someday. And maybe they could take the added step of recreating a mini-gatefold that presents the album’s artwork the way Raphael originally intended. That would be a nice touch.

The first time I heard this record I knew I would end up having it, and would end up writing a review rating it in the three-star range. But I’m a sucker for nostalgia, trivia and oddities of humankind, so despite the couple of weaker tracks here (“Mind Island” and the title track mostly), I’m going to go with four stars, probably more like 3.75. A really interesting album from a fascinating couple of individuals who probably would not have been able to make it in today’s world. Not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing, but I’m glad they left this album behind for future generations to ponder.

peace

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 Space Hymns by RAMASES album cover Studio Album, 1971
2.88 | 32 ratings

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Space Hymns
Ramases Prog Folk

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

4 stars “We are most probably existing on a molecule inside the material of, perhaps, a living thing in the next size up.”

Sound familiar? Just about everyone has had this cosmic phylogeny conversation at some point, either as the person doing the positing, or while listening to some other stoner marveling in the wonder of his ‘discovery’ of the uncanny parallels between infinite space and molecular biology. It ranks right up there with the one about your perception of the color blue versus mine. Pubescent contemplation of the highest order, for sure.

But in this case the words are written in the liner notes of ‘Space Hymns’, one of the more unusual acid- folk-meets-philosophy albums of the late sixties/early seventies, and spawned from one of the more unusual characters around then.

Barrington Frost (aka Martin Raphael, aka Ramases) was a fascinating and clearly disturbed individual who had a chance visit from the spirit of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses (presumably Ramesses the Great, the one upon whom ten plagues were visited before freeing the Jews under Moses to begin their Biblical exodus). Apparently Frost became convinced he was in fact the reincarnation of Ramesses, and his calling was to spread the truth about the true nature of the universe and mankind’s place in it, so he proceeded to rename himself Ramases (and his wife Selket) and get about the business of spreading his message through music. After two false starts with some forgotten singles, the great Ramases found himself in the company of a group of young musicians who were running Strawberry Studios in England and managed to put together this album which featured not only some tasty psych and folk- inspired tunes, but also was graced with one of the early and most spectacular covers Roger Dean would ever produce. You just can’t make up stories like this one.

Or can you? Other than the fact Ramases and his spacey wife missed the acid rock age by several years, there are a few other seeming inconsistencies to this story. First, those studio musicians who engineered and played backing on his album were none other than the entire original lineup of the seventies art-rock darlings 10cc. This in itself raises some questions, as Eric Stewart, Lol Creme, Kevin Godley and especially Graham Gouldman had already been making a very good living as anonymous ‘ghost’ musicians for a whole slew of largely fictitious bands under contract to ‘Super K Productions’ pop entrepreneurs Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz. Among the band names the quartet recorded as were Amazon Trust, the New Wave Band, Ohio Express (not the 70’s bubble-gum band of the same name), Crazy Elephant, Hotlegs, Doctor Father, the Yellow Boom Boom Room, Frabjoy & Runcible Spoon, Fighter Squadron, Silver Fleet and Festival. Kasenetz and Katz were raking in plenty of dough with Gouldman penning stock pop tunes and the rest of the band recording them.

According to Gouldman the ‘Space Hymns’ project was largely the brainchild of Ramases and his wife, with the rest of the players just sitting around on the floor strumming acoustic guitars and reveling in the mystical experience of it all. But in listening to this album one has to question whether the young but very astute pre-10cc fab four had considerably more influence on the content then they may have claimed.

Another oddity is how such a minor and twice-failed musician could have not only landed Roger Dean to do the artwork, but also managed to get the label to spring for an expensive and over-the-top triple foldout cover. And to get them to distribute it not only in the UK but also Spain (with translated liner notes) and in Japan. Pretty neat trick for a relative unknown. The only thing that could have made the story less plausible (or more so, depending on your version of reality) would have been if David Bowie were somehow connected to the project. I wonder…..

Regardless of whether this should be viewed as another pre-10cc studio release or the prophetic wisdom of a reincarnated ancient deity is a matter for the cloud that encompasses everything else we’ll never know. As for the music though, I have to admit this is a pretty awesome album that, although quite uneven and uniformly dated-sounding, is still a moving experience to listen to even today. One has to wonder if the crazy guy’s second and final album will ever make it to CD.

The opening “Life Child” is not only the tightest and most accessible song on the album, it’s also the strongest argument for Godley, Crème, Stewart and Gouldman having much more of a hand in the production than any of them admit. While the slow, ethereal opening is reminiscent of “Space Oddity”, the thing picks up quickly and morphs into a catchy combination of strumming acoustic rhythm guitar, over-amped bass and psych electric guitar behind what is supposed to be Ramases himself on vocals (sounds an awful lot like Eric Stewart to me though). Around the middle this gives way to a lengthy pure psych blast of electric guitar before circling back around to the opening arrangement. Very tight, well-constructed and easily a strong single had it been released either a couple years earlier or later and been given proper promotion. The lyrics tell a disjointed tale of a disregarded deity destroyed by those he came to save: “came down to Earth to comfort me… so that my spirit could be free… we left you hanging on a hill… why won’t we ever do your will”. Sound familiar? Perhaps, but even with the spiritual leaning I don’t get the impression this was intended to be a Christian message; after all, the guy who wrote it named himself after one of the Bible’s most nefarious nemeses. I have to say that if the entire album had the same sense of purpose as this track though, I might consider it a masterpiece. But alas, such is not the case.

“Oh Mister” is more in the vein of the sixties proto-versions of many future hard rockers like Manfred Mann, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks. The instrumentation is simpler, the lyrics almost nauseatingly repetitive (“Oh mister, hello – hello – hello”, etc.), and the tempo quite tepid. The extensive percussion makes things a bit more interesting, but not a whole lot.

Ramases launches into a full-fledged Donovan-like folk anthem on “And the Whole World” with fellow divine-being Selket providing not-quite harmonizing vocal accompaniment. The story here is almost identical to the late sixties Bee Gees tune “I Started a Joke”, but in this case apparently from the point of view of that unnamed space alien cum deity the album seems to be dedicated to.

“Quasar One” was also released as a single, but was mistakenly titled “Crazy One” on that disk. This is completely steeped in space psych with whining, other-wordly vocals and flat synthesized strings along with a choppy acoustic guitar riff. I’d compare the experience of hearing this one with a clear mind to peeking through 3d-glasses at something not designed in 3d. Oddly interesting, but not exactly the audience the artist was going for. This one was meant for smoke-filled eyes.

The fifth track on the album is either an absolutely brilliant work of art, or one of the most insipid pieces of music ever recorded. Whichever, once you’ve heard it the song will never leave your consciousness. Ever. Seriously, I’m warning you. Spoiler alert. “You’re the only one Joe, the only one”. “the only one Joe, the only one”. “the only one Joe, the only one”. Damn-it, stop!

The lyrics (that’s all of them above, repeated thirty times or so whilst the music varies itself slightly from iteration to iteration) come from a line uttered by Jennifer Salt to her boyfriend and soon-to-be male prostitute Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy. You gotta’ wonder about a guy who could turn one line from a movie into an entire song.

“Earth-People”, like “Quasar One” is a whacked-out acid folk number with weird lines from an alien trying to get his message through to clueless and apathetic mankind. Kind of a very early version of Polyphonic Spree before they discovered paramilitary-style uniforms and radio.

Ramases credits himself as Martin Raphael playing sitar on “Molecular Delusions”, which as near as I can tell is a dirge-like psychedelic trance probably performed in the studio nude and late at night after a particularly tasty round of tea and brownies. The only thing I wonder about is who spits a disgusted curse (“f**k!”) out of the left speaker about a minute into the song. I guess that wasn’t caught in post- production.

Another single from album was “Balloon”, also supposedly mis-titled on the 33rpm disk as “Ballroom”. I’m fairly sure it is Crème singing on this one, and again this sounds more like a 1966 tune than one from 1971. Would have made for a decent Klaatu track on ‘Sir Army Suit’ or ‘3:47 E.S.T.’.

One of the more poignant tracks on the album is the acoustic hippy spiritual “Jesus”, which if one can dispense with 21st century jadedness is a pretty endearing song: “Jesus come back, so we’ll have no fear; come back Jesus and we’ll have no tears…”. Not much musically but another one like “You're the Only One” that will stick in your head long after the album stops playing.

The full weight of Eric Stewart and Lol Crème’s savvy with Moogs comes through on the final track from the original vinyl, “Journey to the Inside”. Ziggy Stardust-like creepy vocals, rocket launchpad synth riffs and wild reverberating sound effects make this another space-rock trip-out like “Space Oddity” or the cool part of “Frankenstein”. And just so you don’t miss out completely on the studio banter ala cosmic mysteries, the group includes a minute or so of rambling dialog about comparing distances between atomic particles and space galaxies. Yeah, good idea.

The CD reissue includes a more acoustic version of “Balloon” with prominent piano, as well as identical cuts of “Jesus” and “Oh Mister” with different titles. There’s also a tune called “Muddy Water” that sonically reminds me a whole lot of the first few Spirit albums. This is another folk number with rambling lyric chants that appear to have something to do with being spiritually cleansed in muddy water. Flashbacks all around….

This is one of those albums that hardcore prog music aficionados come across every so often and cherish even though they aren’t classics or particularly innovative or even all that great. What this album has though is stories, and character, and a messy uniqueness that you won’t ever find on a shiny and sterile shelf at your local megastore. This is the stuff you have to look for in obscure catalogs and on dubious foreign websites. Or even better, find stuck between a Rainbow Rising CD with cracked jewel case, and a K-Tel Rolling Stones compilation in some out-of-the-way, dingy and smelly used record store on the seedy side of town. Hopefully you’ll find yours there. Four stars and recommended to anyone who collects this stuff because it refuses to conform to any molds whatsoever. Rest in peace Ramases.

peace

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