“Snuff Rock”: Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias’ piss-take parody on the ultimate punk rock act of rebellion

By on March 15, 2016

In September 1977, an iconoclastic, absurdist Manchester-based UK outfit calling themselves Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias would release an EP called Snuff Rock, on the Stiff Records label, featuring songs about a rock singer named Norman Sleak who is persuaded by his band to stab himself to death onstage in order to boost their career.

His suicidal tendencies were all a big macabre joke, of course, but we have to admit, snuffing yourself out by sticking a knife in your chest does sound like it might be the ultimate punk rock act of rebellion. Take that, Life!

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Their comedic songs were already part of their stage show “Sleak!,” which was a massive success when it was staged at London’s Theatre Royal, with songs composed by Norman Sleek (slightly altering the spelling of his own name for the show’s main character), and we’re going to go ahead and guess that performance was additionally a tribute to (or rip-off of) the U.S. musical comedy revue called “National Lampoon’s Lemmings,” which we told you about here.

Punk rock wasn’t the only type of music they liked to parody, by the way, but they pretty much nailed the nihilism of poseur wannabe punkers right off the bat with the very first song, “Kill” (“Gonna cut me liver out and shove it in your face!”), which we see performed here live.

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The rest of the EP — which incidentally was produced by Nick Lowe using the name “Mike Lowe” for whatever reason — isn’t quite as in-your-face as “Kill,” and mainly seem to be poking fun at the Sex Pistols’s snarling lead singer Johnny Rotten (“Gobbing On Life”) and the last track, “Snuffin’ Inna Babylon,” even takes a stab at the Raga rock reggae you might have heard a band like the Clash (as well as other bands, like the Ruts) adding to their repertoire.

Because the label Stiff had released the EP, there were many who weren’t aware it was actually a parody record so accurate that a lot of people missed the joke entirely.

Back in the day, we remember seeing quite a few reviews in the UK punk mags which treated it as though it was by an unknown punk act (although the back cover of the EP says “Sammy Sphincter presents Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias – Snuff Rock EP” which does sorta sound like they were letting everyone know it was all in good fun).

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Stiff Records — originally formed in 1976 by rock managers Dave Robinson and Jake Riviera — weren’t letting on either, which is something you might expect from a record company who marketed their releases (mostly pub rock, punk, ska and new wave) with the slogan “If it ain’t Stiff it ain’t worth a fuck.”

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When Snuff Rock came out in 1977, they’d already helped launch the skyrocketing careers of both Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, of course (both artists were managed by Riviera — Robinson had managed Lowe’s band Brinsley Schwarz), but they’d also released the great early recordings by the Damned, Ian Dury and other acts, and there was essentially no way to know that the band’s EP was a Spinal Tap-ish piss take on punk’s most violent extremes, an attempt perhaps to legitimize “snuff rock” as an actual thing.

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Make no mistake, these Mancunians were a real band, though, a Monty Pythonesque bunch of spoof rock jokesters who could send up just about any popular contemporary band.

They’ve drawn comparisons in the U.S. to both the Tubes or the Mothers of Invention (who weren’t exactly spoof bands to begin with), but are probably closer to the types of comic rock you’d hear from UK bands like Barron Knights and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

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Prior to their Stiff EP, they’d already released a self-titled album, in 1976, and in ’77 had also seen the release of a full-length platter called Italians from Outer Space, a space opera parody that we’ve read is some of their best work (we haven’t heard it, but we’d like to imagine, perhaps incorrectly, that the satire is aimed at Italian prog rock bands like Premiata Forneria Marconi).

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Another target of their satire was the Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed (their song “Anadin,” a headache medicine, was a wicked parody of Reed’s song “Heroin”).

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They had originally formed four years earlier from the scraps of disbanded folk ensembles (their very name was even a parody of Alberto y Lost Trios Paraguayos, a well-known native folk trio from Paraguay).

The Albertos (as they were sometimes called) were led by founding members CP Lee, who had led a folk band called Greasy Bear (they lasted from 1968-1971).

On the EP, their lineup also featured Jimmy Hibbert (ex Jacko Ogg and the Head People, on vocals, bass), Bob Harding (vocals, guitar, bass), Simon White (steel guitar, guitar), Tony Bowers (bass, guitar), and drummers Ray Hughes and Bruce Mitchell, but the stage show apparently would include additional band members, often appearing in ghoulish skull-like face makeup.

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Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias became popular support act, supporting Hawkwind on tour in 1974, and were apparently so popular that for a time it seemed impossible to attend a show in the UK and not find them opening the bill.

By 1975, however, they were frequently a headlining act, with bands like the Police, the Stranglers and Blondie all opening for them.

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Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias even landed on the UK Singles charts with their Status Quo spoof, “Heads Down No Nonsense Mindless Boogie” in 1978, and then attempted to open their stage play “Sleak” in the U.S. but it failed miserably on its opening night, December 8, 1980, which also happened to be the night that John Lennon was killed (suddenly it wasn’t so funny to see lead singers killing themselves onstage).

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The Albertos ultimately called it a day in 1982, shortly after their TV show “Teach Yourself Gibberish,” finished airing on the Granada Television network.

Author, archivist, journalist, guest lecturer and theatre maven CP Lee (aka CP Ukule-Lee) told the band’s true story in his book When We Were Thin (published 2007 by Hotun Press). He also released a Residents-influenced piss-take on the synthpop bands like Soft Cell or The Human League in the early 80s.

You can read much more about him at his expansive website (which also includes a substantial gig list for the Albertos).

Tony Bowers, meanwhile, joined Simply Red, but the rest of their Albertos bandmates have apparently stopped playing music.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.