“Roots” is the fourth record released by Tunbridge Wells, UK, indie-pop band “The Third Space”, comprising longstanding friends Hendrik “Henk” Kleinsmiede and Joe Farthing, supplemented by various friends and collaborators, including musician and engineer William Manwaring and producer Kevin Paul.
“Roots” was written across two distinct periods: the first half of the record (plus closer “F*** It”) between April and September 2014; the rest in the first half of 2015. As a record, it is as eclectic as its predecessors. Some of the songs (“Don’t Turn The Telly On”; “Absent Fathers”; “It’s Not You, It’s Me”) sport the jangly guitars and three part harmonies that characterise much of our oeuvre; but then there is a punk song (“F*** It”); a 1980s style synth-only song (“Upside Down”); a U2 style atmospheric rocker (“Hide In Heaven); a 1940s-era crooner type song (“Baby, when you leave”); a Led Zeppelin style blues rocker (“You’re Gonna Hear My Blues Today”); an acoustic guitar and strings led ballad (“Broken”); and a country song (“I Hope I Wake Up”). Quite some variety, then! As chief arranger of all Third Space material, the genres spanned in these songs alone speak volumes about Joe’s musical breadth.
It differs somewhat from its predecessors in that this album sees Joe coming to the fore as songwriter. Although Joe had contributed wholesale songs to previous albums (e.g. the hidden 11th “extra” track “Song For Angus” on “Losing With Grace” and songs “Bulldog” and “Monkey In My Head” on “Parlour”) his songwriting contributions had been mainly in re-shaping, arranging and polishing material initiated by Henk. Typically, Henk would come up with something; then Joe would tinker with it. Sometimes just a little. Sometimes a lot. That songwriting formula still holds for part on this record: “Don’t Turn The Telly On”; “It’s Not You, It’s Me”; and “Absent Fathers” were all written in this way. “Telly” and “Fathers” required quite some tinkering; the other hardly any…
But what’s new with this record is that Joe has consistently come up with wholesale songs of his own: “Broken”; “You’re Gonna Hear My Blues Today”; and “F*** It” for instance. Others songs saw Joe collaborate and co-write with his oldest daughter, Anna (aged 14): “Upside Down” and “Baby, When You Leave”.
There is also a song which saw Henk and Joe work in a different way together…actually in the same room, at the same time! Collaborations on previous records were usually asynchronous. Henk and Joe would work on the songs at different times and at different places. But here, the closer “I Hope I Wake Up” was written by both together, in the front living room of Henk’s flat in Tunbridge Wells, one weekday evening in March 2015. One of the last songs to be written for the album, this is new way-of-working may well set something of a precedent for future recordings. Watch this space!
The song “Hide In Heaven” was also written in a new way. The original was written by Henk on his Dobro slide guitar, tuned down to D. But this bluesy version sat uncomfortably with its subject matter (the untimely death of a child). So Joe and William re-wrote the music. William came up with a new chord progression and “Edge” style guitar layers played through a delay pedal; Joe came up with the Simple Minds style drum beat; the bass-line; and a new melody. Of the original, only Henk’s lyrics remain.
“Roots” furthermore diverges from its predecessors in terms of subject matter. If the themes on “Losing With Grace” and “Parlour” especially were love, politics and finitude, then from that triumvirate only love and finitude now remain. Somewhat unusually for “The Third Space”, this is a record remarkably devoid of external reference. Rather than wider, world politics, it focuses on personal politics. And there adds a new theme…upheaval, turmoil and change. Ironically, the album is called “Roots”, when its unifying theme is really about being uprooted…
Yes, there are love songs. But rather than straightforward, these are more contemplative. Love has turned sour in Henk’s song “It’s Not You, It’s Me”, a break-up song that explores that eternal cliche it takes as its title. Joe’s heartwrenching and forlorn ballad of unrequited love “Broken” beseeches the protagonist to reciprocate; whilst his Zeppelin-esque blues “You’re Gonna Hear My Blues Today” is angry and accusative, with bile dripping down the sharp edge of a Jimmy Page style guitar riff. Then “Absent Fathers” examines the vagaries of parental love. Here, Henk juxtaposes the experience of his own father being emotionally absent when he was a child, with he himself being physically absent in the lives of his own children, through divorce.
The themes of love and change overlap in two further songs: “Don’t Turn The Telly On” tries to warn a lover of the dangers of allowing the TV to stifle them “before it’s too late”. As it states in the title, “Baby, When You Leave” sees a lover actually going. The former song anticipates change; the latter sees it unfolding. This theme of change, upheaval and turmoil is then further developed in two more songs: most pressingly in “Upside Down”. Frustration at the state of things (“at least for today, anyway”) is evident in the punk-pedal-steel-and harmonies fusion that is “F*** It”.
As for finitude, there is only one song on this record that deals with death…but the saddest kind; that of a child. “Hide In Heaven” is a song of grieving, written for and about, a football-mad nine-year old boy, who died of a relapsed brain tumour in May 2014.