Pic: Andi Callen Photography
If you’re a regular visitor to the Manchester circuit then the Red Stains name may already be familiar to you due the bands guerrilla graffiti campaign. No toilet wall or gig poster is safe. Only formed in 2019 the band are less than a year old but have notched up some impressive achievements so far, recently culminating in a headline gig at Academy 3 in Manchester. Their debut single is released in April and they will be playing Night & Day Café to promote it on 24th April. The band are staying tight lipped at the moment about which track it will be but my intuition tells me that it’ll be Mannequin. Yet another band thrown together in Manchester from parts further afield, drawn to the city by the bright lights and university. Singer Natalie Emslie hails from Edinburgh via Glasgow, whilst keyboard wizard and sonic noise terrorist, Ella Powell grew up in Camden Town. Add to the mix Sid Vicious’s little sister Sterling Kelly on bass and 50’s styled Ben Dutton on drums, The Red Stains are one of the more interesting unsigned bands around at the moment. With a shared love of The Fall and punk/post-punk in general 2020 is destined to be a huge for the band having already secured slots at Kendall Calling with Tim Burgess’s Tim Peaks Diner and Manchester Psych festival.
MANCANDI sat down with three of the band in their spiritual home, The Peer Hat in Manchester’s Northern Quarter to chew the fat.
You’ve been described as a punk band, is that how you see yourselves?
NAT: When people think of a stereotypical image of the punk movement they expect you to be brash and outspoken, but I think it’s somewhat punk in itself to be inwards and not say much, it gives that element of mystery.
That comes out in your image in that you are all very individual, you can see that in your photo shoots.
STERLING: I don’t do nice photos. I think why would I smile when I can stick my tongue out?
And that’s the feedback I’ve been getting in that “you’ve captured the essence of The Red Stains”, but let’s face it it’s not hard when you put a camera in front of people who are so obviously together and have a great dynamic.
NAT: I think we just get out there and do our thing. We’re just 4 friends, we got along so it’s not hard for us to come together as a band, as a collective. It’s just natural for us and I think that shines through in our performances. We might be not be polished and know all the chords and scales or whatever, did Sid (Vicious) know them, nah he was too busy getting junked up. What we’re all about is making noise and if people like then lets go, it’s fucking brilliant. [To be fair to Ben, he is actually a music graduate and very much knows all the chords and scales. He’s also a very accomplished guitarist with the Slack Alices]
STERLING: When we play live it’s just us, we’re not trying to be anybody else.
It’s really refreshing at the moment that there are so many interesting female bands or part female bands around the Manchester scene at the moment but I’m still sensing that there are barriers which the male groups don’t have to contend with.
NAT: It’s brilliant, yeah people might say we’ve had that (female bands) in the past but they’ve always had set backs. Some of the more successful female musicians came up against stigma the minute they got in the limelight, got harassed about the way they looked, the way they dressed.
Has this happened to you?
NAT: (Nodding) Yes.
STERLING: Oh yes all the time.
NAT: For instance at a recent gig there’s a guy who knows of us, came up to me and was like “I know you’re Natalie (of The Red Stains)” and I went to shake his hand and he grabbed my arm and said “no I want a hug” and I feel like when you’re a female in a band you become public property and dehumanised.
STERLING: People see you on stage and think you’re up for grabs. We have boundaries, we’re human beings. As women we receive a lot of harassment, comments from strangers in the street.
NAT: There was this one time but it does have a funny ending so it’s ok! Me and Sterling got a bit too drunk and we’re waiting for a taxi to go home. Sterling was pretty smashed and about 8 guys came up to me and were like “we want your number” I was all fuck off I don’t want your number, leave us alone and Sterling was feeling very sick and….
STERLING: ….I stuck my fingers down my throat and puked all over them and they ran. It was great!
You are definitely channelling your inner Sid Vicious! Sad though that it took that to get them to leave you alone. And the other week you were definitely channelling you in your inner JJ Burnell from the Stranglers the way you were prowling the stage.
STERLING: Yeah, well he’s one of my favourite bass players and I just love that kind of confrontational attitude that he has where he’s like staring at you, using his bass like a machine gun. Let’s scare them, let’s scare all the men.
More bands now are conscious of their female fans and ask for them to be let to the front, creating a safe space so they can enjoy the gig without being stuck behind some 6ft beer monster. How do you feel about that?
NAT: When I was younger 13-14 and going to gigs, I used to be a bit rowdy and always put myself in the mosh and there would be big burly men who were absolute gentlemen but one time there was this massive guy who just shouldered me to the ground, all 5ft 1in of me, and just started laughing. I don’t think he was expecting me to get up and start punching into him in the middle of the gig.
STERLING: We’ve been to gigs together, mates bands and we’ve been the only girls in the mosh and you learn to defend your space.
STERLING: Exactly. Arm blocking etc. It’s a battle.
NAT: Personally I don’t think gigs should be violent. I understand how mosh pits can be fun but I do think people take it a bit seriously. The only reason I lumped that guy was because he literally thought it would be hilarious to run up to a little girl who was out enjoying herself and floor her for some reason.
So what band were you watching?
NAT: Ahhh, this is where my skeletons come out of the closet! I went to see, I think, Bullet For My Valentine (nervous laughter)
Didn’t have you down as an emo!
NAT: I’ve had my phases. (to microphone) I am very excited about My Chemical Romance reunion by the way (more nervous laughter)
Tour support perhaps?
STERLING: I never got into them.
NAT: Ah, I do like My Chemical Romance. They are good, they’re like the only emo band I listened to. They’re like the gateway band that got me into more of what I like today. I like the costume aspect of it. Then I got into Pulp, The Fall, The Smiths and bands like that.
Well your Instagram moniker is The Britpop Princess!
NAT: oh yeah, yeah.
Is that the basis for your musical influences?
NAT: Yeah, I kind of found my calling when it came to Britpop because they spoke a lot of words I could identify with. Like when I heard Common People for the first time I was like Wow, kind of reminds me where I came from. There was this sudden glamorisation of the working class. It never used to be fashionable to be working class, when my mum went to Farm Foods she used to bring an M&S bag.
I only found out yesterday that Farm Foods was started in Scotland by a local family butcher!
NAT: What no way! Another good Scottish business. My mum would go to Farm Foods but she’d be so ashamed by it she’d put the shopping in the M&S bag but now it’s twisted the other way around with middle class people shopping there and Aldi etc trying to look working class.
STERLING: you get these kids from well off backgrounds trying to dress working class and not quite getting it right.
NAT: There’s still that class barrier but it’s that pure champagne socialist glamorisation. To see that I find it quite funny.
And Glasgow is a very working class city so do you feel a product of your environment?
NAT: The funny thing is that I’m actually from Edinburgh. I lived in Glasgow for two years. The thing about Edinburgh is people think it’s really posh but in reality, it’s got some of the poorest, most deprived areas but people concentrate on the gentrified city centre so people get pushed to the outer parts. The homeless problem in Edinburgh is terrible.
On your early demos you sound a little reserved as a vocalist, not what we see now when you play live. Has that been an organic change?
NAT: Yeah, totally. I’m aware of that change, as a performer I’m still finding my identity.
Have you been in other bands?
NAT: No, I’ve never been in a band before. I’d always wanted to be in a band. I just thought do it. I moved to Manchester for a new start, stayed with relatives and started to find my way around Manchester and found Sterling and the rest of the band. It’s a family.
The Manchester Evening News seem to think you’re a girl band. How do you feel about that Ben?
BEN: Well I suppose they were at the beginning!
STERLING: Yeah, we had a girl drummer at the start but she lasted about 2 practices.
And what about the rest of you. Previous Musical history?
BEN: Yeah, been in bands most of my life since 13, played bass, guitar and now drums with The Red Stains. [Ben also plays guitar for Slack Alices]
Does your experience help the way the band write, perhaps in a coaching/mentoring role?
BEN: Yeah, I think so. I’m able to add a bit here and there and help achieve the sound in our heads. Certainly my previous experience in the studio has helped.
STERLING: I picked up a bass at 16 and self-taught, never had a lesson.
BEN: I only came to uni to be in a band, that was the aim. I’ve never been in a band with people from where I’m from, I just met other musicians out and about, in bars and at gigs.
ELLA: I began playing the guitar during a hiatus from university a couple of years ago. This is my first band too.
How would you describe your role in The Red Stains Ella?
ELLA: I play the keyboards. [The band having dropped the guitar parts from earlier gigs] I mostly use a sampler instead of a traditional keyboard or synthesiser which I think adds some chaos to the band’s sound.
Does being a Physics and Philosophy student in any way influence your approach to music?
ELLA: Both [physics and philosophy] require serious rigour, discipline and method. I couldn’t flatter myself by claiming to approach music in this way; it’s more of an escape from that, and I deliberately disengage from thinking about it too theoretically.
You must all be excited about Kendall Calling? [Tim Burgess posted on Twitter about how much he liked the band and that he wanted to invite them to perform on his Tim Peaks Diner stage. This despite never having seen them live, one presumes totally based on their Soundcloud demos].
NAT: Yeah totally. Tim Peaks Diner, woah, yeah! [punches the air]. Massive fan of The Charlatans. Couldn’t believe it when Nataly, our Manager showed it to us. Going to stalk Bobby Gillespie! [Nat is a massive fan of Primal Scream who just happen to be playing Kendal Calling too!]
There’s a really healthy scene in Manchester at the moment, so many good bands. Are you aware of being part of that and why is it so vibrant? Nobody is slagging anyone else off.
STERLING: At the end of the day we’re all mates, friends in bands around the scene. We help each other out. Nobody has any huge egos, that’s just kind of how it is.
NAT: From my perspective I just see everyone helping each other and wanting each other to get on and be successful. There’s none of the sly jealousness that I’ve witnessed from other scenes. Like when I was back in Edinburgh as a teenager watching bands, it was all guys and competitive masculinity. Manchester is totally different; everyone is so supportive.
As many of the bands around the scene are not “Manchester” bands say like Oasis or The Mondays were but rather formed from people who came to the city for Uni or work and stayed, do you get any animosity from those that are just 4 working class boys with guitars from say Longsight, Salford, East or North Manchester?
NAT: I think it’s really hard to tell [where people are from] these days. So many different people around the scene. Everyone can relate to the Oasis thing but it’s not where you’re from it’s where you’re at. I think that if you live in Manchester, even if you’re not from here originally, you’ve got it in your heart.
The name The Red Stains?
STERLING: I came up with that one. It was the best one out of all the names we had. We could have been Sterile Petals, that was one of the other names we considered.
NAT: I had a whole book of names.
STERLING: I just said Red Stains and you said yes.
NAT: There was something else but Red Stains really stuck you know because it does gross people out. People go “Red Stains” oooer. Something menstrual but for the most part I feel more like the red stain you can’t get out of your shirt. You either love us or you hate us. We’re a Marmite band.
A bit like The Fall?
BEN: I’d never trust anybody who doesn’t like The Fall. I’d rather somebody loved us or hated us. It’s those people in the middle you can’t trust.
NAT: It kind of reminds a bit of the Manic Street Preachers when they first started out in 1992, the you love us/generation terrorist stuff , with the lipstick and eyeliner. Wanting people to hate them or provoke a reaction. They quite enjoyed that. What I like about the Manics is they had a philosophy as such, they had real values which they stuck to.
STERLING: Just for the record I hate the Manics……
NAT: …..but we’re still friends, I forgive you!
STERLING: We are.
And of course the Manics have a really good ear for a cover version, which leads me to ask why choose “Totally Wired” by The Fall?
STERLING: We all love The Fall.
Well like rats in London, you’re never more than 6 feet away from an ex-member of The Fall in Manchester. What kind of reaction have you had from people choosing to cover such an iconic Manchester band?
STERLING: Everyone loves it.
NAT: Ed Blaney (ex-Fall Guitar and Manager) was at our second gig at YERRR Bar, where you first saw us and somebody told us that we shouldn’t play it as he might get upset. I was drunk and soasked him anyway and he said go for it. He was happy for us, “go and smash it” he said.
STERLING: It just made us play better.
How important are bands debut albums? A lot of people like the Manics but can’t stand Generation Terrorists, which today doesn’t sound too different to Guns N Roses in parts.
STERLING: See I’ve always reckoned that if you listen to a bands first album, that’s when you figure out who the band is. That’s what gives you the biggest impact on their musical style, whether it’s The Clash or PJ Harvey, it defines them as an artist.
Of course artists hate that. When they’re on the promotional offensive for their new record, it’s always so much better than the last one or anything they’ve done before. And then several years later they slag it off as being a mistake, not one they’re particularly proud of etc. So when I hear the 3rd Red Stains LP and you’ve got string arrangements all over it, loads of violins like The Verve, what should I be thinking?
STERLING: That will never happen, not on my watch.
NAT: yeah, violins!
STERLING: If there’s violins, I’m leaving the band!
NAT: See I love the Velvet Undergound.
STERLING: Me too, but that was viola.
BEN: Sounds the same!
STERLING: Well I don’t like hippies.
NAT: You didn’t like synthesisers when we first started! You hated them!
STERLING: True, but Ella convinced me different. She’s a keyboard wizard. She’s so talented.
And of course Alan Vega/Suicide made the keyboard an acceptable punk instrument.
STERLING: And the Stranglers! I do like synths really.
ELLA: I feel inspired by the way that Dave Greenfield in The Stanglers composes keyboard lines, I would love to write something as classically beautiful as his part in Golden Brown one day. I’d love to collaborate with The Prodigy one day.
You're the Southerner in this band Ella. How was living in Camden. Did it expose you to a lot of gigs and musical influences for instance?
ELLA: Growing up it felt like Camden was always going to be cool, however you don’t need to live there to know that it’s gone downhill pretty rapidly. I felt like the most important lesson learnt from growing up there was that coolness is transient and not to be trusted; good ideas and genuine flair give music longevity.
And what about the rest of the band’s musical influences?
BEN: Johnny Thunders, MC5, that kind of vibe.
STERLING: Reggae, dub reggae, anything with a deep bassline. Jah Wobble he’s a lovely man. I met him once at a talk in Liverpool. I told him I was in a band and he asked me what bass I played and we got chatting. He never tried to mansplain anything to me.
Funny he lives in Stockport and is a London Underground Driver, imagine getting on his Tube!
NAT/STERLING: Jump, jump, jump the Tube!!!! [One of the Stains best known songs is live fave Jump The Met, about fare dodging on Manchester’s extensive tram system]
How good is PIL’s Metal Box?
STERLING: Best album in the world apart from Cut by The Slits.
I still listen to both of those on a regular basis. These along with Killing Joke, Bauhaus, Joy Division first albums, not the Pistols though, are albums that almost seem timeless. What you’re doing now, in many ways I could have seen people do 20 years ago, 30 years ago. That’s not to say what you’re doing is not of it’s time, you could easily just drop these songs into that time frame and they wouldn’t seem out of place. Is that a fair assessment?
BEN: I’d say further back than that, around 1981 just after punk, that post-punk slot.
STERLING: Like bands such as Delta 5, Au Pairs, Bush Tetras, Kleenex. Again women making great music!
And there we leave it as Sterling has pretty much nailed it, women in music, making great music.! As Joe Strummer once said, "Elevator. Going up!"
Debut Single - Mannequin is released on April 24th on all Digital Platforms. Click cover art to listen.