The tale is told that the shade of Egyptian Ramesses II one day appeared before the Englishman Barrington Frost.
The big bald Frost learned there and then that he was the reincarnation of Ramesses II — not merely a central-heating contractor. The ancient pharaoh ordered the unlikely medium to spread the secrets of the universe to the rest of mankind, using music as his vehicle.
Psychedelic music, as it turned out.
Update: Read about the 2014 Ramases CD box set.
First, there were some strange singles in the late Sixties. Then “Space Hymns,” the first complete work, emerged in 1971, in the dimming of the original psychedelic era.
Despite the album cover by famed fantasy artist Roger Dean (Yes), few ever heard the musical word of Ramases — as Frost took to calling himself. Most of those who did found the album remarkable.
Looking back, “Space Hymns” serves as one bridge between the folk-tinged psychedelia of the 1960s and the space rock/prog rock of the 1970s. Maybe a cross between the Incredible String Band and Hawkwind. It anticipates the late-century mash-ups of Arabic music and rock, as well as the neo-psychedelic folk movement of the new century.
Hardcore 10cc fans know the album as an early group effort from Lol Creme, Kevin Godley, Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman, all of whom backed Ramases. Background vocals came from Ramases’ wife, now known as Selket.
(One rumor has Stewart singing the songs attributed to Ramases. This at a time when the future 10cc lads recorded at Strawberry Studios (in Stockport) under numerous fanciful names. Could Ramases be a cosmic goof? It’s a meaningless question.)
Gouldman remembers the sessions: “It was a really fine album to make. We would sit down on the floor with acoustic guitars, that kind of vibe, very hippy and mystical.”
The album’s first track, “Life Child,” opens with silence. Then a faint eerie sound out of “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Acoustic guitars morph electric. A disembodied voice emerges, in character as an alien returned to Earth. “I see your sun is going down; I see your wreckage on the ground. … Your seas are full of poisoned water.”
The Moroccan-flavored “Oh Mister” and the straightforward acoustic number “And the Whole World” follow. Then it’s back to spaceland:
“Quasar One” wanders across almost seven minutes, with production that’ll feel familiar to 10cc fans. Chants and drums leap back and forth from the speakers. The singer fades into a sonic black hole before returning to finish his cosmic love song, the proceedings increasingly dissonant and disorienting.
“You’re the Only One” tests listeners with its one-line lyric taken from “Midnight Cowboy”: “You’re the only one, Joe.” Over and over, with acceleration. Music to freak out by.
In “Earth-People,” our alien speaks of traveling the deserts of Zeus and witnessing the birth of a planet. But he cannot navigate human communication. Nick Drake on acid. The angels in “Wings of Desire.”
“Molecular Delusions” brings more chanting, with an Arabic music influence.
“Balloon,” the catchy repetitive single, cautions Earthlings not to foul their air: “Don’t burst your bubble/or you’re in trouble.” Things that go swish and zoom race from speaker to speaker before the apocalyptic finale. “Jesus Come Back,” a similar folkie ballad, advises “no fears for the future.”
“Journey to the Inside” closes out “Space Hymns” with more 10cc phase shifting, Beatle-esque dingo balls and dark sci-fi effects. “Oh, what are you going to do with me,” Ramases asks. Psychedelic cocktail party chatter brings us to stop.
The story goes that Ramases killed himself in the late 1970s. Survivors include this fine curious rock record and one other, “Glass Top Coffin.”
The “Space Hymns” import (Repertoire label) tends to go in and out of stock. (Update: The follow-up record, “Glass Top Coffin,” finally was made available on CD in March 2010 via Esoteric Uk/Zoom.)
Note: This 2010 review gave Ramases’ birth name as Martin Raphael, which was the current information at the time it was written. That changed two years later. His widow — and the reissue producers — identify him as Barrington Frost and the review now reflects that. Raphael apparently played sitar on one of the recordings. The mystery goes on …