Ramases may have gone to the spirit world, but his legacy lives on in his music and this is the best of it. – Jon Wright, 2010
In 1975 I was 16 years old and living in the mining town of Boksburg, South Africa. Cat Ballou was the local record (and jeans!) shop in town within walking distance of my school, and I would spend many afternoons there soaking up the sounds of the latest releases. Rick Wakeman, Slade, Uriah Heep, Strawbs, Deep Purple, Supertramp, Yes and many, many more well-known artists were to be heard there.
One day the owner of Cat Ballou, Mrs Glencross, showed me the latest import, ‘Glass Top Coffin’ by an obscure artist Ramases. I already had a pre-recorded cassette of his ‘Space Hymns’ album from 1971 and loved it. This new import was marked at the princely sum of R7.50 … normal local pressings went for about R5.50, so this was way expensive at the time.
However I bought it (probably about 3 months worth of pocket money) and though it was very different in tone and feel from ‘Space Hymns’, I played it over and over and let the other-worldly themes, swathed in orchestral strings wash over me.
I really loved this album, and have played it often and regularly over the years.
I even transcribed the lyrics and though there are inaccuracies, they are still the only ones I’ve ever been able to find.
I have published them on a fan website I set up at http://spacehymns.com
Skip ahead 35 years …
Estoric Recordings, part of the Cherry Red label have re-issued this album officially on CD for the first time. Remastered by Paschal Byrne from the original tapes and including a superb booklet with sleeve notes and rare images.
Extract from the excellent sleeve notes from the 2010 CD re-issue written by Jon Wright
Then, in 1975, Ramases and Selket returned with this masterpiece, Glass Top Coffin. Co-produced by Ramases and keyboardist Barry Kirsch, the album was markedly different from the debut. More eclectic and certainly more professional it was another concept album based on space themes. Orchestral arrangements gifted by members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra clearly helped Ramases to fashion his space hymns into a space opera. Confident perhaps in their abilities with a solid recording set-up Ramases and Selket both found their voices on this record. Their duet on Now Mona Lisa being a seductive and beguiling standout.
Elsewhere, tracks like the dittyish Long, Long Time and Saler Man found the pair surfing a way between pop and prog to a degree that shames many other bigger names of the time. Gone was the chanting and quasi-religious babble, to be replaced by an altogether firmer song cycle – in short, this is a more considered and better orchestrated record. An indication that during his hiatus, Ramases had matured significantly as a musician and songwriter.
The cover was a sticking point for Ramases, who clearly had an acute aesthetic sensibility. The cover was designed by him with artist Dave Field, but a mistake in the production, which lead to the figure on the cover not being pop-out as he had planned annoyed him just enough to lose interest. Ramases were no more and after poor sales he retreated from the industry.
Ramases left very little behind him, but this masterpiece is justification enough for his extravagant claims and outlandish dress. Melancholy, uplifting, though still strange enough to be cult, the album has continued to garner worldwide praise. Selket has recently resurfaced to discuss the albums on various fan sites and forums from here to South Africa and Germany, where the albums became immensely popular. She claims that she has tried to forget most of what they did. If true, that would be sad enough, but the death of Ramases at his own hand in the late seventies reads like an Egyptian tragedy. Only the Loneliest Feeling and Mind Island take on an added poignancy in the light of this, full of innate sadness and dark melancholy, they also indicate the hand of a sensitive and heartfelt songwriter. Ramases may have gone to the spirit world, but his legacy lives on in his music and this is the best of it.