About Overall There Is A Smell of Fried Onions

Overall There Is A Smell of Fried Onions was a culture magazine created and published in Nottingham, England, from April 1991 to March 1998. They were there at the dawn of desktop publishing and regularly distributed thousands of printed copies across the city and beyond.

By accident, a new publication was born.

Back And Front Cover

Words: Paul Kilbride, Founder of Overall

Imagine a world where there are no mobile phones, no PCs, no internet, no e-mail, no social media – no Facebook, no Instagram, no Twitter. That was 1991. In those days, you didn’t text people, you posted them a letter. If you were out and about and wanting to find or share information the question was “Where’s the nearest phone box?” rather than “What’s the wi-fi password?” If you wanted to know what was happening in town, you had to go there – to a pub or to a record shop to find a flyer. If you wanted to settle an argument, or look up who was in that film or whatever, you had to wait until you could visit a library. At the time, there was no what’s on-type magazine. It was word of mouth or a piece of paper. If you wanted to promote alternative culture, you had to do it yourself.

I had been organising gigs on that alternative scene for a few years at various venues (function rooms in pubs) around Nottingham and beyond. This involved making individual posters and leaflets for each gig using a typewriter, scissors and glue and was mostly done at the old Art Exchange on Gregory Boulevard, where they had something called a strip printer. This was basically a light box with a strip of photographic paper fed through it. You could then choose from four or five celluloid negative strips each with the alphabet and digits 0-9 in a different font. This strip was lined up over the film strip and the lid closed. Switch on the light inside the box and the letter was printed photographically on to the paper. You then had to manually pull the strip to the next required letter, and then repeated the process until you had spelt out the name of the band or venue or whatever you wanted as the headline. After that, you’d take the photographic paper strip to the dark room to expose it. The photos to your right will give you some idea, but I promise you the one they had at the Art Exchange was much more primitive.

All the letterings had to be glued onto a sheet of paper like a ransom note, and from there it was on to the photocopier to knock up the poster and leaflets. Eventually it occurred to me that it would be a lot easier and cheaper if I put two gigs on the same flyer, then why not four, and fold it, and so on. I then added some reviews of demo tapes (yes, music cassettes) I had been sent, and a broadsheet ensued, still produced in the same primitive way. I stuck on it as a masthead my then favourite phrase ‘Overall There is a Smell of Fried Onions’ (long story – and a long session at the strip printer), filled some empty space with other venue’s adverts and distributed it around town. I took some into Jacey’s Bar. They said, “Oh no, you’ve used our old leaflet.” I thought I was in trouble but instead it was: “Here’s our new artwork and twenty quid. Go and get some more copies done.” By accident, a new publication was born. I put my salesman’s head on and went to work.

After several altered and re-photocopied issues, I was contacted by a local outfit called the Media Store which had been looking at starting a magazine themselves. They had a computer - an Apple Macintosh Classic with a massive 1MB Ram and a 9” screen (see photo right). Not ideal for typesetting A4 pages but it sure beat scissors and glue!

I used to go to local band gigs, stand at the bar and if the mood took me, I’d scribble on the back of a beermat or a flyer, and try to decipher it later. I liked doing it that way – the spontaneity and anonymity of it. I never really liked to organise a review, have to plan it, introduce myself and then be obliged to write something. I’d rather just do it on the spur of the moment, and it didn’t have to be a band. Often I wrote more about the venue, the crowd, or the carpet even. I reviewed a jigsaw and a lift. In fact one thing I regret not introducing to the magazine was a regular column about hand dryers. You can tell a lot about a place by its washroom facilities. I could have called it ‘Dried Alive.’

Soon, other people started sending me reviews, many written in the same anonymous way. Hardly anyone asked us for tickets in the early days. I never actually met a lot of the writers, as stuff started coming in from all over the country and sometimes from abroad. I hardly ever arranged reviews. It was fantastic that they were just sending stuff in like that. They just wanted to be part of something and join in the fun. Overall eventually grew to become a platform for some very talented writers. It is that of which I am most proud.

That shallot.