There's a bit in an obscure St Etienne song where Stephen Duffy says that if you remember the '80s you weren't really there. Well sometimes I think that I don't remember the 1980s, so I guess I must have been there, although really I wasn't anywhere. Except purgatory perhaps, although I presume we all think this of our adolescences, whenever they happen to happen. Or not, as the case might appear to be.
So I don't remember Miaow. I don't remember how between 1985 and 1987 they shimmered and shivered, sounding like some strange lost soul wandering the glassy streets in the dead of night with scalpel blades taped to finger tips. It escapes me exactly how or why bands sounded the way Miaow did: all complex simplicity and simple complexions, but I'm glad they did. I have no memories of their brittle and muted funk guitars invading my head now; no late-teenage epiphanies come to mind that went hand in hand with their meet-me-behind-the-bike-sheds skiffle swing, or with their sly shuffles and skipped feet in gasoline puddles. Never being one to listen to late-night radio (I was far too busy sleeping or reading architectural history books, I'm afraid to say) I have no awareness of the two slinky sessions they recorded for John Peel in '86 and '87, and didn't know that the songs therein swung from chandeliers in icy abandoned palatial mansions, showering the peeling walls with pinpricks of silver. Others will remember much better than I how Miaow were feted at the time by a music press that still cared to dare and dared to care (or at least that's how it seemed, or seems in retrospect - I'm perfectly willing to accept that this may just be me looking at history through oddly tinted spectacles). They will nod sagely when they cast their memories back and remember the shows they played as support to Sonic Youth, Nick Cave and, perhaps most bizarrely of all, to Butthole Surfers at the legendary Ambulance Station. Miaow sounded nothing like any of those groups of course, which was inevitably why they should have been on the same bill of course; parts of the '80s being about risks and eclectic mixing. Not that I really remember of course, and not that you'd guess it from the retrospectives hurled about by the mainstream media. But that's the mainstream media for you.
Miaow were never mainstream, which isn't to say they were pointedly or consciously 'difficult', just that they were too naturally obtuse and slightly skewed to ever really mix it with whatever it was that clogged up the mainstream charts of the time. Because as I say, I don't really remember those times at all... And being one for whom visual keys often open doors of remembrance, I don't even feel a flicker of recognition on seeing the sleeves of their two Factory singles 'When It All Comes Down' and 'Break The Code', although if pressed I would suggest to myself that I may have seen the iconic former pinned to a desk beside Patrick's drawing board, Patrick being the owner of the finest cheekbones ever and the owner of a healthy obsession with all things Factory.
And more than most, Miaow sounded like perfect cheekbones.
© 2003 Alistair Fitchett