“DA HIPPY Church” is what my Dutch cab driver calls it. As regular readers will know, the Paradiso is a converted church in the centre of Amsterdam, existing in a shimmering flower power time-warp from 1967 where soft drugs are legal and plentiful.
Here, Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias are getting their break in the world of big-time movies. When I arrive in the late afternoon, The Paradiso is peopled by hysterical, gesticulating French who greet each suggestion from the director with jeers of derision and exaggerated histrionic gestures of despair.
And this is only the lights crew. Paradiso regulars, showing up early to get stoned, gradually begin to fill the hall and are co-opted into the movie. At the Paradiso the girls still wear glitter, face paint, hennaed hair, “head” jewellery etc. The French girls with the film crew, in their tailored jeans, sneer at them.
The plot is red hot: A pure, Parisienne girl runs away to Amsterdam and falls in love with a junkie girl she meets at The Paradiso. The junkie is shooting up on the balcony. The camera pans past her to a long shot of the stage below…and which group does the discerning Eurojunkie fix to these days?
On stage Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias slay the audience with their wit and repartee, grinding their way through ‘The Story Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’.
I CUT TO that evening’s performance. The Paradiso is packed and appreciative. The Albertos sell about as many records in Holland as they do in Britain.
“You could say that we’re about as big as Mud over here”.
Bob Harding stands stage centre and sings a sincere religious song:
“Now that I’ve found Jesus/I don’t smoke dope no more/I’m through with smack and fucking…” – He makes ad-lib asides – “I got that needle right out of my ass, Lord!”
They remind me of the Fugs, particularly Ed Sanders’ first solo album, Sanders’ Truckstop. The Albertos have their roots in the Fugs, Zappa, the Bonzos, the Alberts and also the Goons, Monty Python, National Lampoon, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore and the whole spectrum of English humour from Tony Hancock to Arthur Askey.
There are five of them, all screaming for attention – which makes for a highly energetic stage act, with everyone shrieking “Look at me!” and any incident used as an excuse for improvised humour.
In the middle of ‘Pavlov’ the power fails. Chris Lee immediately falls on his knees, screaming at the Lord in anger, “Give us back our power”. The audience love it. Since it was in a church many of them remain convinced that it was part of the act.
Also during ‘Pavlov’ a dog appears out of the audience and jumps on stage. Much is made of this; “Remember, ‘Dog’ is ‘God’ backwards…”
They do a Lou Reed number which no-one should miss. Bob Harding drags himself across stage, throwing in a few swimming strokes for good measure, before pulling himself up the mike to standing position while the ‘Sweet Jane’ backing track grinds away behind him mean and nasty.
With his back to the audience, hunched over the mike, he parodies Reed to perfection, at one point whipping out a guitar lead and tourniqueting his arm to receive a shot of machine head rubbed up against him. The song’s called ‘Anadin’.
They take the piss out of rock mercilessly. Heavy metal is destroyed by Chris Lee: “This will be so loud that your ears will bleed and your brains dribble out of you nostrils…”
Patti Smith got hers in the punk number, ‘Radio Iguana’, or maybe it’s called ‘Teenager In Schtuck’, a Ramones-style ditty taken at breakneck” speed with guitars held at the correct 45 degree angle and a “1,2,3, 4” countdown between each verse to keep everyone in time.
The Albertos feel punk is a healthy force in an industry that has become dominated by Rod Stewart society parties and millionaire heavyweight bands who use up all the money. At a recent Marquee gig The Damned went on and did Alberto’s encore for them.
They can imitate anyone – though that’s not the whole point. They can transform themselves before your eyes and become The Magic Band. It’s not just the music that changes but their gait, the way they hold their instruments and move on stage – it’s quite creepy. Suddenly you have before you Captain Beefheart in his best early period doing ‘Gingham Toad-Wart Troutcheque Boogie’, which seems to be a new version of ‘Winter Wonderland’.
It’s impossible to do this band justice. They really have to be seen to be appreciated. Their act is obviously the result of a long history – and I talked to Chris Lee about their roots.
Lee says he hated rock ‘n’ roll until he saw Dylan and The Band on the 1966 UK tour. Then he went out and bought himself an electric guitar.
“I used to really believe in the underground – in the alternative society – because it meant so much more than rock music, and I think Alberto is a bit like that – a bit more than rock music.”
“Bruce Mitchell (the drummer) was in the Victor Brox Band – the most important blues group in the Northwest next to Mayall. They would play an opening number then they would wheel on a tree trunk and Brox would start carving it while he was singing. The idea was that the place would book them again so they could see how the sculpture was getting on…
“Bruce had an exploding drum kit and used to collapse during his solo. They used to rush on with a gas mask with a tube going to a great big cylinder that had “dope” written on it. They used to pump up and he’d start playing again.
“They used to do whole gigs on acid before it was illegal. There were a couple of black guys in the group and half way through the act the band used to paint each other either black or white – according to which they were. Can you imagine this in Bolton in 1966?
“I acquired Bruce for a leather overcoat. The Brox Band broke up in 1967, and with a school friend I’d just started a band called Jacko Ogg And The Head People, and we needed a drummer.”
A sax player named Tosh Ryan lived next door to the house they rehearsed in.
“Tosh used to play with Victor Brox and he said, “Oh, you need a drummer? Gimmie that leather coat and I’ll get you a beltin’ drummer”. So, being young and foolish, I did. Now Bruce and I have been together for ten years.”
Jacko Ogg used to feature the North of England junior bagpipe champion, doing things like ‘Baby You’re A Rich Man’ on bagpipes with cardboard cut-outs of skyscrapers behind which Chris Lee in a King Kong outfit would fight with someone painted green to represent The Incredible Hulk.
Next for Chris and Bruce came Greasy Bear – four harmony singers playing country rock as a reaction against heavy metal, “particularly Jimmy Page”. They made an album for Philips which never came out.
“We used to have a huge block of wood with “10 bob deal” written on it and we would roll a two foot long spliff on stage.”
They were obviously rather advanced.
They listened to records available in Manchester at the time: the first two Mothers albums, The Fugs’ Tenderness Junction, Canned Heat’s first album, The Velvet Underground and Elektra albums.
Tony Bowers, bass and lead guitar, and Simon White, pedal steel and lead guitar, were students at Wigan Tech. “When they were about 16 they used to watch Greasy Bear, never dreaming that one day they would play with their heroes…”
The group was slowly forming. Bruce was sharing a flat with Chris and Chris was working at a “freaky shop in Manchester” with Jimmy Hibbert – who now plays rhythm guitar and sings with the Albertos.
The band has gone through many name changes. At one time they were Willie And The Zipguns, and prior to becoming Alberto they were Harry Odin And The Thunderers. Chris would like to change the name again, to the George Sugden Eleven.
The name Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias does confuse some people. And so does their act. “At one time we used to come on wearing panchos and sombreros singing ‘La Cucaracha’. This was at these very very hard rock gigs in the North. They’d all be sat there waiting for Sabbath or Quo, then they’d hear ‘La Cuca-rach-a, la cuca-rach-a…’
“There were about nine of us then and we’d stumble through all the pint pots and piss and cigarette ends…
“When it first started it was like – for want of a better word – a tribe. Everyone was equal, the musicians, the roadies…we were all equal. We had people dropping in and playing and dropping out and playing…Everybody had the same wages. Then came responsibilities and commitments and the road crew wanted a wage – which meant they earned more money than us. But if they’d stayed with it they’d have had a percentage of the album as well. But they didn’t, so tough shit, roadies!”
Alberto’s plans usually involve performance.
“We had great plans to do a symphony called ‘Journey To The Centre Of My Head’ with Portsmouth Symphonia at the Albert Hall. Suspended over the audience we were gonna have fibreglass brains with wings that went backwards and forwards and opened up and dropped cards that said, ‘After the show why not enjoy a good Chinese meal at Ling Chen Fung’s?
“And we kept laying all these plans on the management…and sometimes they’ll rent us a bear suit from Theatre Zoo for us to all look stupid in…”
I WAS with the Albertos on the last leg of an exhausting European tour and saw their concerts in Amsterdam and Eindhoven. They’d reached the stage where, when the group van went under a bridge, they’d automatically lower their voices – because that was what the radio did.
While driving through East Germany they saw Corby Service Station heading towards them through the night on a collision course across a field. As they all cowered in terror, the apparition passed over their heads. In fact a double decker train and it crossed the autobahn over a bridge. At that point they realised that they’d been on the road too long.
They have almost completed a new album which includes much more spoken material, making it more like their stage act. Some of it is totally bizarre. If there were any justice in the world these guys should have their own TV show, but as it stands you’ll just have to try and catch them live.
© Miles, New Musical Express, 22 January 1977