Red sky at night, curveball soundtrack delight
For Richard Littler, the 1970s is an illness. The artist and writer behind the extraordinary ‘Scarfolk’ multi-media project, depicting a dystopian north-western town trapped in a perpetual Public Information Film of rabies, witchcraft and mind control, has turned his gaze upon that most beloved of childhood institutions: the pre-teatime cartoon.
And so the washed-out colour palettes and gentle, post-psychedelic malaise of ‘Mr Benn’ and ‘Mary, Mungo And Midge’ have been spoofed in ‘Dick And Stewart’, the animated tale of a wide-eyed 1970s schoolboy whose constant companion, a sentient eyeball, is all that remains of his dead best friend.
Providing a gloriously woozy soundtrack is Chris Sharp, whose 2018 Concretism album, ‘For Concrete And Country’, was an unsettling evocation of Cold War Britain with its secret bunkers and microwave relay stations. ‘Dick And Stewart’ finds Sharp mining a gentler but no less unsettling musical seam: the unmistakeable sound of, as Paul Weller once put it, “watching the news and not eating your tea”.
The sickly arpeggios of ‘Too Many Teeth’ perfectly evokes the feeling of dread that arose as the closing titles to ‘The Magic Roundabout’ faded and Angela Rippon began to speak sternly of “the arms race”. And it’s impossible to hear the listing mellotron of ‘Dick In Bed’ without experiencing a kind of Proustian revulsion for the taste of cellophane-wrapped Lucozade.
Like all of Littler’s work, ‘Dick And Stewart’ uses the nightmarish tropes of his childhood to put a reinforced monkey boot into the sickness of the present day. The animation itself, available on YouTube, is a disturbing tale of state surveillance and its invasion of everyday life. ‘Everyone Likes To Watch’ is Sharp’s dizzying show tune paean to this intrusion, and ‘Watching Is Normal And Healthy’ a giddy, waltzing Wurlitzer of a follow-up.
That diseased feeling, that unmistakeable sense of bed-ridden, hallucinatory illness, pervades throughout. It bleeds through from the 1970s into the present day. This year is – to say the least – unable to provide a cure, but Littler and Sharp have encapsulated the root cause in affectingly uneasy fashion.