Overall There is a Smell of Fried Onions

Photos: Curtis Powell
Interview: Jared Wilson
Thursday 16 January 2020
reading time: min, words

Cast your mind back to the 1990s – an era before mobile phones, the internet and LeftLion. Back then, a printed magazine called Overall There Is A Smell of Fried Onions was covering and nurturing Nottingham’s music, culture and events scene. Under the leadership of Paul Kilbride, it published fifty-odd issues between 1991-98, distributing them for free in venues all over the city...


How did Overall begin? 
My brother Noel was in a rock band called AC Temple and I organised a gig for them in Nottingham in the very early nineties. After that I ended up putting on more gigs, and I was getting sent demo tapes and requests for gigs from bands all over the place. At first I was making a different poster and flyer for each one, but it occurred to me that it would be better to put them all on the same piece of paper.

I also started writing reviews of the demo tapes bands sent me. I’d already written for a magazine, imaginatively called The Magazine, which was a precursor to Overall and had interviewed the Sugarcubes at Rock City in 1988; to this day Björk is probably the most famous person I have ever met. After this I started putting in posters for other gigs around the city that I liked too. Venues who realised I'd done this then started to give me a bit of money from the till and asked me to print more. Pretty soon I was running a magazine. 

Where did the name come from? 
The name doesn't really relate to Nottingham at all – I got it from a book by Robert Anton Wilson who co-wrote the Illuminatus trilogy. When I printed up the first edition I put that on the front. I didn't plan for it to be the title, it just happened. I later learned that the quote was from philosopher William James who drugged himself with nitrous oxide and that sentence was his conclusion about the effects of it. 

You produced a magazine before the internet and in the early days of desktop publishing. What did the creation process involve back then?
For the first two issues it was me putting posters and flyers together on one piece of paper - the main tools I used were a typewriter, scissors, Pritt Stick and a photocopier. This was the era of fanzines, and I put the first ones together at the art exchange on Gregory Boulevard, which is where the New Art Exchange is now. 

After a couple of issues I was approached by a local outfit called The Media Store, who were based on Derby Road. They said “We've seen your magazine and we like it. But it looks like a mess and we've got a computer to make it look good.” The guys I worked with there were Chris Brady and Alex McKenzie (designers) and Stephen Barker (who ran the business). I think they'd planned to start their own magazine, but when they saw what I was doing they thought it would be better to join up. We worked together on it from the third issue onwards.  

Who else was involved in the team? 
Early on it was Stephen, Alex and me. I'd go out and review bands anonymously, put all the content together and hand it over to them. Then Martin Thomas, who was in a band called Crunchbird, joined us as a main writer. He went on to write for Melody Maker and is now the biographer for The Prodigy. There were a lot of other people involved and lots of people sending things in unsolicited, too many to name them all. Some of it was awful and I'd have to completely rewrite it to make sure we had enough content. I remember completely re-writing one guy’s review, and he sent my edit into a competition and won a backstage pass dinner with the band.

What was the Nottingham scene like in the early nineties? What's changed? 
All the music venues are much better now. Back then you just had to find a room upstairs or downstairs in a pub and hire a PA. They were just basically empty rooms that you put a gig on in, and you had to do everything yourself, often had to hire the room as well. Nowadays venues come equipped with lighting, engineers and PAs, but back then it was very much a do-it-yourself scene

Where did you stock the magazine?
In those days the Old Angel was information central for alternative Nottingham, so I used to shift a lot of copies out of there. But we took it to anywhere we could that put on live music, as well as the library, the old art exchange and the art galleries. Selectadisc were one of the best outlets because they had three shops in the nineties, so I could put a pile in each one and they’d all get picked up quickly. 

You ended up interviewing and covering some big names in the mag like Gilles Peterson and Ken Loach, as well as early reviews of bands like Nirvana, Oasis and Radiohead. Do you look back on them now and wonder if they remember you?
It's only since I dug all the back issues out for archiving that I realised we had covered a lot of the bigger stuff. When we ran the review of Radiohead playing the tiny Imperial pub on St James’ Street we had no idea how big they were going to get. I wasn't that interested in the mainstream anyway, my interest was local bands and local music. It was a bit of a bugbear to me that some of our writers were constantly asking to review bands at Rock City, when there was a pile of demo tapes from unsigned bands on the desk waiting to be reviewed. 

What I'm most proud of now is the writing and the writers. The standard was really good and everyone sent stuff into us for nothing. The most important thing for me was that we could provide a platform for writers and culture in Nottingham, regardless of what they wrote about. 

Why did you stop publishing in ‘98? 
The desktop publishing revolution killed us, basically. I didn't realise it at the time but we had published pretty much through a recession and the cheap advertising made it attractive to people. Quark Express, which was the main design software at the time, became available for PCs. When we came out of that, everyone started to make their own posters and flyers instead. 

Also, when we started each venue or club would concentrate on a particular genre of music. But the house and dance music scene really kicked all that up the arse and so every venue put on different nights with different promoters and they all wanted to be more specific with where they put their adverts and flyers. We basically ran out of advertising at that point and couldn’t afford to carry on printing. 

What did you do after, were you still putting on gigs?
I tried to, but also around that time some of the venues I used changed; for example Sam Fays on London Road was sold to Hooters. It was a great venue and they didn't charge me to use the place, so we could put on bigger bands there. Those guys also took over the Old Angel and I was putting on four or five gigs a week there as I was in charge of the bookings. I was making money from it and the money from the gigs would go into the magazine, but it all started to dry up. I also think the local live music scene just wasn't as popular in the late 90s because of the dance music boom. It ran its course and that was it. 

Tell me some of your best memories from that time...
Discovering new music was probably the main thing for me. As well as the bands, I used to go to a lot of raves and listen to a lot of dance music at home. Your ear becomes tuned to whatever it is you listen to most. One day in the postbag, we got this 12-inch blood red vinyl copy of the full-custom gospel sounds of the Reverend Horton Heat from Sub Pop. I stuck that on the record deck and I thought, “Bloody hell, rock and roll!” I still listen to that now and saw them at the Rescue Rooms fairly recently.

What were your worst memories? 
It was always about not having enough money and having difficult conversations with the printer. It was often difficult to publish the next issue and that's why there are some gaps in the archive, because we'd have to miss out some months here and there. 

Is there anything else you'd like to say? 
Overall, there is a smell of fried onions. 


Our work with Overall

Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund we at Leftlion have been working on an archiving project with Paul and Overall. The work we are doing is:

  • Creating a free-to-access online archive of the magazine. This will go live in January on overallmag.com for all to see.
  • Launching a one-off printed celebration issue of Overall. This will be released at the end of January 2020 and stocked in various venues across the city until it runs out. 
  • Putting on a reunion party for those who remember the magazine. This will be held at the Angel Microbrewery on Saturday 18 January 2020 and features live music from Christian Reilly (musical comedian), Chris Olley (Six By Seven) and Last Sons (Duke01 and Furious P).

Tickets available from gigantic.com

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LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

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