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Thursday, 24 February 2011

Review: Ramases - Space Hymns (Released 1971 on Vertigo)

First put online on the Head Heritage website in 2004

Ramases: Vocals
Sel: Vocals

Eric Stewart: Guitars, Moog Synthesizer
Lol Creme: Guitars, Moog Synthesizer, Piano
Graham Gouldman: Guitar, Bass Guitar
Kevin Godley: Drums, Percussion, Flutes
Martin Raphael: Sitar

First things first, anyone who likes the more 'folk' drenched albums associated with the former World Serpent related groups-e.g. Current 93, Orchis etc., or any people seduced by older albums by the likes of Dr.Strangely Strange, Incredible String Band, Comus etc., then you would probably take to this, although, it doesn't necessarily sound the same as any of those names mentioned, but you could maybe relate to it.

Housed in a lavish fold-out album sleeve with a remarkable Roger Dean painting depicting a rocket bursting up into the night sky, this would catch many a person's eye in the early 1970s, especially when you opened out the full package and see that the 'rocket' is in fact a church steeple which has launched upwards being disengaged from the building!

A friend of mine bought this album on the strength of the cover alone, a few years after it's initial release.
As you could imagine, our close throng of teenage ears were eager to hear what this was all about, a blistering onslaught of german progressive keyboard workouts maybe??

Wrong! that time I/we thought it was a load of daft folky-driven, non-descript nonesense and proceeded to give said friend a hard time when the usual bouts of playful group mocking sessions would unfold.....a simple mention of the name 'ramases' would always be a sure-fire retort when one such skit would fly my way (sorry Steve!).

For years later, I would often think about this's cover, it's odd songs and (in particular) the solarised photo on the inside cover of the album showing a shaven-headed Ramases and his wife Sel standing side by side with their right arms out-stretched, each holding aloft a frail shaft of corn. I then managed to 'secretly' obtain a copy of the LP myself.

The Ramases story is an odd but interesting one and yet not without a sad, unjust ending.

Martin Raphael aka Barrington Frost aka Ramases, was born in Sheffield, England in the late 1930s and after teaching physical education in the army, went on to make a living selling central-heating systems in Scotland.....until the Egyptian God Ramases appeared to him and told him the true meaning of the Universe.
With no time to lose, he adopted his new moniker and thought the best way to get the message across would be to inform the youth of the day.
In 1968 he secured a recording contract with CBS(!) and released the single- "Crazy One/Mind's Eye" by Ramases & Selket.
In 1970 he signed to Vertigo and entered Strawberry Studios in Stockport with the future members of 70s UK pop act- 10 CC.

"Life Child"-
Echoed, distant flutes resound down the valley as the music then fades in with wah-wah guitar, heavily strummed acoustic guitar and fairly solid drums. There's a very fitting psyche-guitar section in the middle, probably to hook the punters in on first spin.
Well, it was always the first track you would hear, if you asked the record shop staff to play an album out of the racks or if you were lucky enough to get a headphone booth.
It's also laced with some buzzing bass synth notes and builds up quite a pace after Ramases sings such lines as-

"I see the wreckage on the ground... Life Child!"

"Oh Mister"-
A song that I thought was daft years ago, sounds great fun now with it's- 'If you can't play along, bang on some percussion' commune feel.

"And The Whole World"- is a melancholy folk song that I can't listen to sometimes as it gives me an incredible rush of sadness.
The power of 'simplistic' music....from the other end of the spectrum.
There's a nice short vibes solo too.

This is where the oddness is though, as the next track-
"Quasar One"- has Ramases and Sel singing with strange nasal tones and puzzling lyrics.
Percussion, guitar and bass merge together with slightly feverish chanting that builds up (and out) twice, before dreamily drifting off before those nasal vocals come in again. An excellent, blissful track.

At a running time of just over two minutes and consisting of the line-"You're the only one Joe, the only one", the track, yeah, you guessed it! -
"You're The Only One" can be forgiven for scratching your head and thinking "what the....???"
I don't know, what IS the strange pull of all this...?, this track, over the years, often plays in a loop in my head...not suprising as the line is repeated over 30 times.

Just when you think you are going further towards going round THAT bend...

"Earth-People"- comes in via something that sounds like backward tape church-organ before acoustic guitar strumming and backwards flute gives Ramases the cue to sing-

"After I've travelled the deserts of Zeus
After I've heard the birth of a planet
After I've journeyed the oceans of silence
After I've found how true they are............"

The sound is so becalmed, especially by Sel's marvellous vocals and more flutes weaving through the voices.

"Molecular Delusions"-
Buzzes of sitar (credited to his former-self!), Ramases sings distant megaphone lines alternating with multi-tracked vocals that chant the title in slow repetition.
Trivial but bizarre and I'll mention it anyway, you can also hear the word "fuck" spoken very clearly, coming out of the left speaker just a minute or so into the song, which makes you think- Was it a mistake? Did he spill some tea in the studio? We'll never know.
There's a pleasant overall 'eastern touch' to this, which again is great in that it creates a very relaxed mood.

Is a more straight-ahead sing-a-long song, with later washes of background synth as the song is relayed with loaded statements-

".....don't burst your bubble....the air's your bubble.....don't burst your bubble or you're in trouble....."

To drive the point home the song leads to a reverberated moog blast which bursts it all to a sudden close.
A single version was recorded and released in 1971 with the synth effects more pronounced.

"Dying Swan Year 2000"-
Solo voices sing about 'beautiful things dying' while people look away.
Not a minute in length and yet it's got quite a chill to it.

"Jesus"- is another very melancholy song. It gives me a shudder when I hear it, similar to the feel of the previous 'And The Whole World' in it's
ability to make you feel helpless with sadness, but also like hearing some kind of strange eerie christian cult record.
Goosebumps never fail, especially with Sel's frail "aah aah" backing vocals at the end of certain lines.

"Journey To The Inside"- closes the album and begins with some strange low thudding synth noise and sounds like the needle has stuck on the run-out groove.
It loses the 'traditional' instrumentation in favour of rapid breathing backward tape-loops and curving low moogs and high pitched jittering synth twitters...
"Oh...what are you going to do with me..." -he intones as the moogs become on the verge of going out of control as they fade to bring the track to a close, but not before a conversation captured in the studio between Ramases and the players and studio hands, ending with cosmic words from the man himself....

"....but I think it goes further than that...I go into a molecular thing as well....the comparative distances between electrons and nuclei in molecules in every very comparative to the distances in our own solar system...if you took a pill to get smaller and you...vanished... get smaller and smaller and vanished inside that chair that you're sitting....."

One of the strangest albums I've ever heard, in the way the melancholy nature surrounds you but doesn't drag you down.

It's also very addictive, although you CERTAINLY won't believe it on the first few listens.
It has now been issued on CD by Repertoire Records.

Another album was released in 1975 named "Glass Top Coffin" (also on Vertigo).
Then nothing else was heard until reports surfaced with the news of his death (by suicide) in the early 1990s.

The book "England's Hidden Reverse" by David Keenan, detailing the stories of the groups Nurse With Wound, Current 93 and Coil, features a small photo of the Ramases & Selket debut 45 picture-sleeve on the front cover photo-collage, Current 93's David Tibet being a fan of Ramases for many years.

In 1970, just before 10CC found pop success, they had recorded a simplistic but excellent single -"Neanderthal Man"- under the name 'Hotlegs'.
This bizarre chant-driven song, got to number 2 in the UK charts, number 22 in the US and a number One slot in Italy.
It sold over 2 million copies worldwide.
Elton John, who was an unknown session player at this time, also recorded a version for a budget-priced LP collection of sound-alike hits.

It was revealed years later, that this song, in lyrics, style and content, had been 'lifted' from the Ramases/Sel repertoire.

Written by Tim Jones october 2004

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