Way Through is a collaboration between photographer Claire Titley and poet Christopher Tipton, they both write, record and perform music together that’s soaked through with field recordings, salvaged text and the resonant landscapes they encounter on their hunt throughout the British Isles in search of the elegiac components locked within. Their latest album, Clapper Is Still was released by Upset The Rhythm at the end of 2013 (CBTR review by Rob St John). ‘Westonzoyland’ is taken from the album, an attempt to document the Somerset Levels village during the dying light of late summer.
Armed with a notebook, camera and tape recorder we start closing in on Westonzoyland after some circuituous looping through Bridgwater’s labyrinthine one-way system. Ducking beneath the M5, the road coils like a slow river through the flat terrain towards the bell tower in the distance. Speeding past abandoned pub car parks, nodding crops and strings of pylons we soon reach the outskirts. “Welcome to WESTONZOYLAND. Site of the Battle of Sedgemoor 1685. The last battle on English soil” declares the village sign before urging us further to “please drive carefully”.
We park outside St Mary’s church, fearing the door already locked due to our late arrival, but the latch lifts and the heavy weight swings open. Once inside, our eyes adjust to the holy gloom and scan the nave, falling on a cluster of thumbed, glass cabinets and a plastic diorama of the Monmouth Rebellion’s final conflict. After a few minutes of illuminating the model via a series of bulbs and close inspection of the information boards, we seize upon a photocopied map of the battlefield and our song starts to kick and breathe. We walk as an act of re-enactment. We track histories along their overlapping paths. We sing of and to the landscape. Press play and record.
The last battle fought on English soil upon an island in the grazing marsh. Five hundred rebels rounded up, treated with pitch and scattered afar. Hanging around the village. Wooden angels stare fixedly down. Six bells hanging. “Get luck in the new life of heaven”. A plastic cavalry forever charging across the painted backdrop, flags flying, swords aloft, paper tents and model trees.
Coppicing willow below the stooping microlights. Poppies erupting around telegraph poles. Long driveways and muted bungalows lead you from the 1970’s back to Sedgemoor. Dipped golden brown, wooden trellis panels, security lights and barred bay windows. A ditch too far to jump. Patchworks of tarmac and chain link fencing, pedestrian chicanes, solar panels and sheltering beehives. Alice Burton, happy 18th birthday, feeding a giraffe. Washing up in the bungalow on the corner of Cheer Lane. The sweet scent of honeysuckle threatening fresh rain. Chopped logs, cut grass, wet paint, sweeping up.
“Unsuitable for coaches”. Frothing drainage ditches, waterlogged crops, muddy trails of teasels. Surprisingly large, rasping grasshoppers creeping fast through the stinging nettles and failing Summer. A weakened sun folds behind a horizon line of patient, semi-detached housing, their windows watching over resting fields. A rebel musketeer in a civilian coat. “RIP Ashey”, a rainbow of leaching printer ink, trailing ivy and fairy lights. Keffiyeh, saluting. Linstock and powder horn. Meadowsweet and mallow.
Standing on the flat Langmoor, poorly drained and swept with gunfire and metal detectors, the wind is clustering the tall grasses, making partings for a fringe. Hear the beating drums, hooves thundering across pitched battle on rough pasture. Two giant poplars girdled in iron hoops, a roaring canopy of emerald and chalk guarding a paddock of metal poles and a spring-hinged gate, a place where something happened. Something marked the land, footprints and standing water, on top of ploughed earth, turning from pink to gold. On top of cannon shot, a thousand bodies below.
Four mossy staddle stones, the first missing it’s cap, the fourth, a reluctant addition to the Twentieth Century. A non-partisan granite stone, the aftermath, the servitude. The dead of both sides “doing the right as they gave it”, lie buried in this field. Pylon hum and lyric snap. A jam jar of green water, a handful of carnations.
Throughout this battlefield wrapped bales of shiny black plastic punctuate the landscape.
A mass grave of silage, heavy and still, turning into food.
In their body bags, pro patria.
Way Through have their own blog called ‘Way Through With You’.
‘Clapper Is Still’ is out now through Upset The Rhythm.