Band members Related acts
line up 1 (1975)
- Ramases (aka Barrington Frost) (RIP 1978) -- vocals, guitar
- Sel (aka Dorthy Frost) -- vocals
supporting musicians: (1975)
- Bob Bertles - sax
- Kay Garner - backing vocals
- Sue Glover - backing vocals
- Roger Harrison - drums, percussion
- Pete Kingsman - bass
- Barry Kirsch - piano, synthesizer
- Sunny Leslie - backing vocals
- Jo Romero - guitars, tablas
- Colin Thurston (RIP) - bass
- Brotherhood of Man (Sue Glover and Sunny Leslie)
- Nucleus (Bob Bertles)
- Ramases and Selket
Rating: **** (4 stars)
Title: Space Hymns
Catalog: 6300 046
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: original fold out sleeve, though one corner has stuck and been torn
Catalog ID: not yet listed
The UK's well known for its lengthy list of musical eccentrics. That said, the late and little known Ramases (aka Barrington Frost, aka Michael Raphael), probably deserves to be in the all-star bizarro top-10. The problem here is that Ramases is too obscure for such a list. By the way, this one's so weird, I'll forgive you if you don't believe that it's actually true.
Graduating for the British equivalent of high school, Barrington Frost found himself drafted into the Royal Air Force where he served as a physical trainer. Having completed his compulsory duty he turned his attention to selling central heating throughout Scotland. The story goes that in 1968 while driving to see a client, Raphael had a vision wherein he was visited by the Egyptian god Ramases. Ramases informed Raphael that he was no longer a central heating salesperson, rather Ramases' reincarnation and that his new mission in life was to tell mankind the truths about the universe. Embracing his new found mission, Raphael legally changed his name to Ramases, christened his wife Selket and set off to get himself a recording contract, intent on using rock and roll as a way to get his message out.
God only knows how, but Ramases and his newly-Egyptianized wife Sel (aka Dorthy Frost), somehow managed to convince CBS to finance a single. Credited to 'Ramases and Selket', "Crazy One" b/w "Mind's Eye" (CBS catalog number 3717), somehow failed to set the world on fire. The "A" side was actually entitled "Quasar One", but a misunderstanding at the printing plant saw it released as 'Crazy One'. It subsequently appeared on their debut LP with the right title.
Recorded at Strawberry Studio with support from a pre-hotlegs/10 C.C. lineup of Lol Creme, Kevin Godley, Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart, 1971's "Space Hymns" is one of those special, if completely forgotten albums. First, to give you a feel for this set, here are the LP liner notes:
"This album is dedicated to the earth people who are unusual because they have begun to pause, look back, and wonder where they have come from and why, and where they are going to! The earth is a living thing just as we are and has a soul as we do. You look at the heavens through a telescope. Reverse the telescope and you have a microscope through which (if powerful enough), you would see almost the same sight. (Electrons in orbit around their stars.) "In my father's house there are many mansions" (The Bible). We are most probably existing on a molecule inside the material of, perhaps, a living thing in the next size up. The rocket ship shape of churches probably dates back to Moses' visit to speak to God on the mountain and what he saw there."
Given their odd story and the bizarre liner notes, I was expecting something along the 'real person' lines. Was I ever wrong! With a considerable nod to the pre-10cc crowd, with one or two exceptions the album was surprisingly commercial and entertaining. Complete with blazing guitars, the leadoff 'Life Child' was probably the most mainstream song, but virtually every one of the eleven tracks had something going for it. Full of strumming acoustic guitars 'And the Whole World' and the mildly psychish 'Quasar One' (previously released as the single 'Confused One') were engaging ballads that would have sounded good on top-40 radio. Admittedly, Ramases could have done a little more in the lyrics department. Trying to combine his "mission" with third rate sci-fi images, tracks such as 'Earth People' and the Gregorian chant 'Molecular Delusions' were unintentionally hysterical. Elsewhere, sporting a mid-eastern vibe 'Hey Mister; and the weirdly hypnotic 'Your the Only One' were little more than simplistic chants of the title. To be honest, there was nothing particularly groundbreaking or original here, but the end results were simply weird and sincere enough to be highly attractive. Interestingly, at least to my ears, it was easy to see how Ramases appears to have had a major impact on both Hotlegs and 10cc. 10cc basically stole 'Neaderthal Man' from the pair and anyone familiar with Godley and Creme's frequently experimental solo catalog can probably spot the influences as well.
"Space Hymns" track listing:
1.) Life Child (Ramases) - 6:25
2.) Oh Mister (Ramases) - 3:10
3.) And the Whole World (Ramases - Sel) - 3:44
4.) Quasar One (Ramases) - 6:40
'Quasar One' had previously seen a release as the 1968 single 'Crazy One'. The record company insisted on the new title for the 45, feeling it was more commercial
5.) You're the Only One (Ramases - Sel) - 2:25
1.) Earth People (Ramases) - 4:45
2.) Molecular Delusions (Ramases) - 4:05
3.) Balloon (Ramases) - 4:28
- 1971's "Balloon" b/w "Muddy Water" (Philips catalog 6112-001)
4.) Dying Swan Year 2000 (Ramases) - 0:42
5.) Jesus Come Back (Ramases) - 5:03
- 1971's "Jesus Come Back" b/w "Hello Mister" (Philips catalog 6113-003)
6.) Journey To the Inside (Ramases) - 6:21
Barrington Frost was, anecdotally, born sometime between 1935 and 1940 in Sheffield, UK, although the Sheffield City birth records indicate that his birth date was 1/1/1934. He was the only child of musical parents (his mother played piano to silent movies in the local theatre, and his father was a tenor)  and grew up singing and playing guitar from an early age. Barrington was drafted into the RAF, and eventually rose to become an army PT instructor. After completing his service, in 1960 he met and three weeks later married Dorothy Laflin (1957 carnival queen of Felixstowe), who was working in her parents' Felixstowe restaurant at the time. The couple settled in London, where he worked as a jazz singer by night and an HVAC installer by day, while Dorothy waited tables. His central heating employer offered him the opportunity to open a branch in Edinburgh, Scotland, but then went bankrupt shortly after so the Frosts stayed in Scotland and built up their own successful HVAC business in Glasgow.
The Frosts relocated to Sheffield in 1966 and remodeled their home in a Roman style. Barrington shaved his head and began dressing eccentrically in silk robes. In 1968, the story goes, during a drive to visit a client he was visited by the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses who told him he was the Pharaoh's reincarnation, and he must take up the Pharaoh's message in a musical career.
Several early singles (recorded with his wife, whom he renamed Selket or Seleka) failed to make any impact. In 1971, Harvey Lisberg signed Ramases to Vertigo Records, and recorded the album Space Hymns at Strawberry Studios in Stockport, backed by Eric Stewart, Graham Gouldman, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, who would shortly after form the band 10cc. Space Hymns has the most expansive artwork Roger Dean was ever allowed to produce, with a 6-panel fold out cover depicting a church steeple (St George's Church, Stockport) lifting off into the cosmos. On the other side in infrared colour Ramases and Sel are shown holding aloft strands of wheat in a Demeter-like pose from the Eleusinian Mysteries. The lyrics deliver the same confident message. (Note: many sources erroneously report that Ramases' real name was Martin Raphael, who was actually only the sitar player on Space Hymns.)
Ramases's second album Glass Top Coffin was recorded at Phonogram Studios in 1975 in London, but Ramases was unhappy with the strings and chorus which were added post-production without his permission, and he was unhappy with the cover. The album did not sell well. Ramases and Selket left London and returned to the country of Felixstowe Ferry. A third album, to be titled Sky Lark or The Sky Lark got as far as cassette demos, but Ramases became increasingly despondent and on 2 December 1976, aged 42, he took his own life. His death was not widely reported in musical circles until the early 1990s, and by then much of the Ramases history including the Sky Lark demos had been burned by Selket's jealous second husband.
In 2014 actor (and Ramases fan) Peter Stormare collected together (with the help of Selket and Harvey Lisberg) all of Ramases' surviving recordings, both released and unreleased, and compiled them into a six-disc boxed set.
Martin Raphael was born in the late 1930’s in Sheffield. After childhood he became a PT instructor with the army moving to Scotland to sell double glazing or central heating (no-one seems to be sure) after his conscription was over. One day, parked up in his car, Raphael claimed he was visited by the Egyptian king and told to spread the truth about the universe to the troubled and discordant world out there. Raphael agreed, changing his name and his identity to Ramases, (one assumes here that he was calling himself after Ramases the Great and not one of the lesser Ramases). Either way, he then got serious, wearing old Egyptian clothes and scouting, along with his renamed and clearly understanding wife, for a record label willing to help him in his quest. All this would be laughable of course if that had been the end of it.
Incredibly, it was the mighty American label Columbia Records, known outside it’s native land as CBS that saw the potential in Ramases, offering him a contract to record a single. Crazy One/Mind’s Eye (CBS 3717) came out in 1968. Now ultra-rare, the single changes hands for upwards of £70. Those who want the song but not the artifact however, can find it on the Exploiting Plastic Inevitable Vol 2 compilation and on Vol 3 of the famous Rubble series on Voiceprint Records. The space theme that was to define his artistic direction should have begun here, but someone at CBS misheard the original title, Quasar One and listed it as it now appears.
Ramases and Selket - Crazy One Ramases and Selket – Crazy One / Mind’s Eye The cover depicted the pair of them in Egyptian garb, the bold Ramases, looking for all the world like Imhotep from the recent Mummy films. Mind’s Eye was also released on a Mojo compilation, ‘Acid Drops, Spacedust and Flying Saucers’ in August 2001. For the first single, the duo called themselves Ramases and Selket. After the failure of the single, they were dropped by CBS and signed with a much smaller label to try again. Now under the name Ramases and Seleka, a name with no obvious Egyptian connotations, the pair released Love You/Gold is the Ring, on Major Minor Records, (MM 704), again in 1968. Less rare than its predecessor, the single will still set you back £20 nowadays. The single failed, again to have any impact and for a couple of years, Ramases and Selket/Seleka all but disappeared.
As befits a legendary king of old however, his return was both triumphant and beautifully timed. Vertigo, the spiral label of which is now virtually synonymous with the high years of progressive rock, signed Ramases in 1970. Without a band at this point, the pair located to Strawberry Studios in Stockport to record their debut, Space Hymns. The studio was owned by four chaps who were to have a lasting impact on the UK music scene themselves as 10cc. Kevin Godley, Eric Stewart, Graham Gouldman and Lol Crème would form the band in 1972, but at this point they were free to help Ramases and help him they most certainly did. Space Hymns was released on the label in 1971, (Vertigo 6360 046). Replete with a dramatic and beautiful painting by Roger Dean on the cover, the inside folded out into a huge, solarized poster of Ramases and Selket holding ears of corn in retrospect it looks for all the world like a progressive rock album – but it isn’t. Decidedly folky in tone, with the hippy tinges one might expect from Amon Duul or Quintessence, it was really a psych record that found its audience in the prog market as a welcome anomaly. A counterpoint perhaps to the endless tempo and time-signature twiddling of labelmates like Gentle Giant or Cressida and full of tantric chanting and quasi-religious overtones. Two singles were released from the debut, Ballroom/Muddy Water, (Phillips 6113 001) and Jesus Come Back/Hello Mister,(Phillips 6113 003) – once again neither, perhaps unsurprisingly, bothered the pop charts.
After the release, Ramases and Selket moved south to Felixstowe and again, a hiatus followed and not much is really known about what they did in this time. There were almost certainly no live dates.
Many years ago Martin Raphael was in his car when something happened that totally changed his life. He said he had a vision of Ramases (Ramasses) who told him that he was the reincarnation of the long dead Egyptian Pharaoh and that his mission, should he choose to accept it, was to spread the truth of the universe through his music.
As you can imagine Martin’s life was never quite the same again. He adopted the name Ramases, dressed according to his new persona, and set out to fulfil his supernatural assignment. However strange this story sounds Ramases secured a record contract with CBS.
His wife Dorothy Frost became Selket the Egyptian goddess who, I’m told, took the form of a scorpion to protect one of the canopic jars, in her case the one containing the intestines, of those seeking the afterlife. Together they set out on their musical journey.
Rating: **** (4 stars)
Title: Glass Top Coffin
Catalog: 6360 115
Country/State: Sheffield, UK
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: die cut, gatefold sleeve
Catalog ID: 4214
Co-produced by Ramases and keyboardist Barry Kirsch, 1975's "Glass Top Coffin" was every bit as eclectic and enjoyable as the debut album, though it sported a sound quite different from the debut. Featuring twelve original tracks penned by Ramases and his wife Selket (aka Sel), material such as the lead off track 'Golden Landing', 'Children Of The Green Earth' and 'Sweet Reason' (where Ramases sounded like Marianne Faithful), reflect a sound that was far more polished than the debut album. Part of that was no doubt a reflection of Rob Young's elaborate orchestral arrangements which included support from members of the Royal Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra and the Eddie Letter Chorale. If you were looking for a return of 10cc in a support role, they were gone this time around, having unceremoniously stolen 'Neanderthal Man' from Ramases and Sel under the name Hotlegs. Like the debut, there was clearly a concept buried in here, though apparent references to aliens ('Golden Landing' and 'Children Of The Green Earth') and religion ('God Voice') were largely lost on me. I will warn you that if you scratch the surface on many of these tunes, it makes for a somber and occasional bleak outing. 'Only The Loneliest Feeling' was one of the saddest tunes I've ever encountered. Not that it mattered since the set was full of seductive melodies and some wonderful vocal performances, including the intriguing Ramases-Sel duet 'Now Mona Lisa.' A lot of folks will disagree, but as much as I liked the debut, on a song-for-song basis this one was even better. While musical comparisons are always fraught with danger, this time around tracks such as the pretty 'Long, Long Time' and 'Saler Man' found Ramases and Sel pulling off a credible, low-budget take on The Moody Blues (had The Moodies been middle aged central heating salesmen). Interesting, my favorite track was actually the most atypical offering - in this case the hard rocking title track. Perhaps I was being colored by Ramases' subsequent 1990's suicide, but tracks such as 'Mind Island' and the spare 'Only The Loneliest Feeling' seem to give the whole album an air of sad and dignified resignation which only made the results all the more fascinating. Easily one of my top-50 personal favorites and a crime that it hasn't been heard by more people ...
Even though Ramases was unhappy with the final product, designed by Ramases and artist Dave Field, "Glass Coffin" stands as one of my favorite album covers. The die-cut cover shows a human figure falling into a horse head shaped nebula, opening up into a stunning sci-fi inner sleeve.
"Glass Coffin" inner sleeve
"Glass Top Coffin" track listing:
"Haunting" is an adjective that is frequently tossed around, but it was truly apt for Sel's vocals on 'Golden Landing.' Yeah, the song had an ominous sci-fi feel, but I've always felt as the lyrics were a disquieting nod to Ramases forthcoming personal issues and ultimate suicide. About half-way the chorus vocals reminded me of something like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on acid ...
2.) Long, Long Time (Ramases - Sel) - 5:13 rating: **** stars
Built on a soothing, lysergic-tinged melody showcasing Ramases' sweet voice and featuring some lovely Barry Kirsch the synth lines, 'Long, Long Time' was easily one of the prettiest things they ever recorded. This one is guaranteed to drop your blood pressure several points.
3.) Now Mona Lisa (Ramases - Sel) - 2:54 rating: **** stars
For folks who thought these guys were simply too far out, the sweet ballad 'Now Mona Lisa' would have sounded dandy on FM radio. Always loved Sel's multi-tracked girl group backing vocals and a song representing the Mona Lisa's side of things was actually quite clever. Donovan and Cat Stevens would have loved to have written and recorded something as impressive. "She just thinks life should be sunny, she thinks life is funny, she just loves the flowers ..." Life should be so simple.
4.) God Voice (Ramases - Sel) - 3:21 rating: *** stars
A spare acoustic performance, 'God Voice' sported a beautiful melody and one of Ramases' most impressive vocals, though the lyrics were a little heavy for me. A song that seems to be demanding we worship the singer isn't exactly something I'm crazy about. Not quite sure what was going on with respect to the tribal ending ... The Brotherhood of Mans' Sue Glover and Sunny Leslie provied backing vocals. Would love to know how that happened !
5.) Mind Island (Ramases - Sel) - 4:38 rating: **** stars
The soothing opening of 'Mind Island' has always reminded of an Anglo version of something Merrell Fankhauser might have recorded. Admittedly Bob Bertles' sax solo seemed a little out of place, but it was a brief interruption before heading back to Ramases "special island". All of us should have a special island ...
6.) Only The Loneliest Feeling (Ramases - Sel) - 2:54 rating: **** stars
Singing in an odd register (I originally thought it was Sel), and accompanied by what sounded like a cello, 'Only The Loneliest Feeling' displayed a stunning air of sadness and dignified resignation which only made the album all the more fascinating. Possibly one of the saddest songs you'll ever hear, don't even think about playing this one if you are already feeling lonely and depressed. It will not help your outlook on life. Would have effortlessly slotted on a Richard and Linda Thompson album.
Opening up with a bouncy, '50s rock flavor, 'Sweet Reason' was very different from the rest of the album ... As mentioned earlier, Ramases vocals sounded like late-inning Marianne Faithful. Not a great performance, but very different.
2.) Stepping Stones (Ramases - Sel) - 4:28 rating: ** stars
The melody was certainly pretty and commercial, but 'Stepping Stones' wasn't about to win any awards in the lyric department - wonder if anyone has counted the number of times "blowing your mind out" was repeated? By my quick count it was 47 times, but who knows ...
3.) Saler Man (Ramases - Sel) - 4:59 rating: **** stars
'Saler Man' was another pretty acoustic singer/songwriter tune that had a sweet refrain and considerable commercial potential. Not sure about the title (a reference to Ramases earlier career ?), but it certainly seemed autobiographical. Sad that Vertigo didn't even bother to release a single off the album.
4.) Children Of The Green Earth (Ramases - Sel) - 3:27 rating: *** stars
Yet another ballad, 'Children Of The Green Earth' featured some completely over-the-top sci-fi lyrics ... Guys, time to head for the star field. Loved the brief acoustic guitar that closed the song. Another track that is haunting in view of his subsequent demise.
5.) Glass Top Coffin (Ramases - Sel) - 4:07 rating: **** stars
The title track was the toughest. most mainstream rocker the pair ever recorded and one of the best things in their catalog. Showcasing some awesome Jo Romero lead guitar, it also sounded very out of place on the album. Should have been tapped as the single.
6.) Golden Landing (Ramases - Sel) - 1:58 rating: *** stars
A brief reprise of the opener ... Sweet way to end the album.
The Moody Blues approached the pair about opening for them on a tour, but Vertigo insisted they use 10cc as their supporting band. Given the bad blood between the parties, the tour didn't happen. Without any real support the album failed to sell, marking the end of Ramases recording career. The pair had actually recorded material for a planned third album (tentatively entitled "Skylark"). Dropped by Vertigo, Ramases and Sel slipped back into day-to-day obscurity. Several years were spent caring for Ramases aging mother. Suffering from depression, Ramases survived a suicide attempt, but subsequently fatally overdosed on prescription medication in early 1976. He would have been 43 at the time of his death.
For anyone interested, super fan Nigel Camilleri has a wonderful Ramases website at: https://ramases.wordpress.com/
In 2014 Swedish actor Peter Stormare released a Rameses compilation - the six CD, 90 track set "Rameses - Complete Discography." The set was issued on his Stormvox label (catalog number CDSV02). In conjunction with the reissue project, Stormare placed an ad in a local paper asking for the whereabouts of Sel. Her family saw the ad and in support of the compilation she recording a detailed, extended interview which is available on YouTube:
For someone who went through some very hard times, it was nice to see that Sel eventually found herself; remarried, had a son and seems to have found a degree of peace with herself and her history.
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