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.
I have to admit to knowing almost nothing of this story until recently when Esoteric Recordings re-release of the pair’s remarkable album Glass Top Coffin arrived.
The excellent sleevenotes, written by Jon Wright, and a superb fans' website by Nigel Camilleri, both tell the tragic story of a musician that has been all but lost in the sands of time. Sadly, after this album was released, Ramases and Selket disappeared from the music world. Tragically he was destined to take his own life sometime in the late 70s, a fact that only became generally known many years later.
Born in the late 30’s in Sheffield, England, Martin was, at times, an army PT instructor and a central heating and/or a double glazing salesman. That is until the visitation from Ramases which set him on a short but fascinating musical adventure.
Glass Top Coffin was, in fact, the second album from Ramases, the first being Space Hymns, which arrived on the Vertigo label, in 1971. It was recorded in a studio owned by Kevin Godley, Lol Crème, Eric Stewart, and Graham Gouldman, who would, the following year, become 10cc.
It also featured a cover by none other than Roger Dean who, of course, also produced memorable artwork for Uriah Heep, Yes, Budgie, Asia, and many others.
A three year gap followed during which little is known of Ramases and Selket’s lives except that by this time they had moved to Felixstowe, in Suffolk. Quite what the locals thought of having an Egyptian Pharaoh in their town is not known. They re-emerged in 1975 with this undoubted progressive gem.
Glass Top Coffin represented a shift away from some of the more overtly religious themes, and chanting that was on Space Hymns. It was very much another concept album, perhaps even a space opera.
It centred on his new life mission with its theme of the universe and arrived complete with contributions from a host of musicians, including members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra who freely gave their time and talent to the project.
It would be easy to casually dismiss Ramases and his claims of reincarnation were it not for the fact that musically he served up something of a masterpiece. Excuse me while I chuck in a few clichés but hearing this is like desert sand being brushed gently away from some ancient and forgotten Egyptian relic.
Thankfully Esoteric Recordings has unearthed this album from the vaults for people like me to become enthralled by.
With its rich orchestral arrangements, luscious production, silky smooth vocal performances, and spellbinding writing, Glass Top Coffin is wrapped within an atmosphere akin to a stage production. There is a cloying sadness within the album that is lifted by some beautifully scripted and sensitively written musical pieces.
Let’s face it you don’t just stroll into the CBS offices, and latterly Vertigo, claiming to be a reincarnated Pharaoh and get a recording contract without some special musical talent. Glass Top Coffin confirms this statement in a golden light appropriate for Ramases the Pharoah born of the sun god Ra.
Please check out Nigel Camilleri’s excellent website for a thorough analysis of each track on this beautiful album. I found it extraordinarily powerful, hypnotic, and timeless in a way that I simply had not anticipated.
It stays just the right side of sounding overblown, convincing enough to avoid becoming preposterous, and is lifted by its delicate, fragile, and oddly compelling atmosphere.
I guess the answer as to why this album sunk with hardly a ripple lies partly in the date of its release. 1975 was very possibly too late. The musical world was on the cusp of revolution and there simply wasn’t any more room for someone attempting to explain the secrets of the universe on vinyl.
What Martin Raphael did after this album and up to his suicide is not known. What he should have been doing was making more music as he was clearly a gifted and sensitive musician with a wealth of ideas to offer.
This album is not what I was expecting. It is not a rock album, and not lightweight by any stretch of the imagination. This is something altogether deeper. It is progressive, eclectic, seductive, and melancholic, full of deeply sensitive and heartfelt vulnerability.
Whether you enjoy it as a set of music of course is personal taste. There are brief shades of something akin to Jefferson’s Airplane's more reflective, early Surrealistic Pillow moments amongst that rich orchestration. Ramases and Selket’s voices blend together almost seamlessly harmonising perfectly within the atmosphere created by the album’s twelve pieces.
Once again I am indebted to Vicky and Mark Powell of Esoteric for enhancing my own particular musical journey and knowledge through re-releasing otherwise lost albums. By releasing Glass Top Coffin, which comes complete with superb digital remastering, they are keeping the Ramases name alive, just as Martin Raphael was told he must.Powered by Sidelines