Funeral For A Friend: Your history is ours

Tamsyn Wilce and Rob Barbour reflect on Funeral For A Friend and their final London shows

Funeral For A Friend: Your history is ours

By Punktastic

Jun 7, 2016 13:00

Approximately ten years ago, I had just started getting to grips with the term ‘emo’ and everything it entailed, the music in particular is what enticed me into such a niche demographic and I discovered bands such as Alexisonfire, Jimmy Eat World and Silverstein. One band that made their early arrival into my life were Funeral for a Friend. I still remember making a mix CD to take on a teenagers’ holiday camp with me and it had 'Red Is the New Black' and 'Juneau' on it - it got confiscated for having swear words in it, but one of the leaders told me he’d been listening to it all day in the office because it was so great.

For reasons that can be neatly summarised with the words “high school”, I stepped away from being a ‘grunger’ for a couple years and therefore totally missed the release of Funeral for a Friend’s debut ‘Casually Dressed and in Deep Conversation’. Fast forward to 2005 and I was back at it again with the pink hair and lashings of eyeliner. Soundtracked by an album that still to this day has a major impact on me whenever I hear it, and that album is ‘Hours’.

Skipping ahead to the present day and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Funeral for a Friend live several times and last year spent some time with Kris Roberts talking about the heart and soul of the band. However, despite releasing five more albums after ‘Hours’, FFAF were plagued with the line “I prefer their earlier material” all too much and struggled to really hold the attention of their fans unless it involved hearing “the old songs” live. So, when it was announced that in the spring of 2016, Funeral for a Friend would be no more they knew exactly what they had to do, and what the fans wanted the most. The last chance to dance.

I headed to the ‘Hours’ show. A show which in some ways I’d always dreamed of seeing, but one which I never wanted to happen in these circumstances.

As keen players within the developing UK rock scene, FFAF have always handpicked their supports and given new bands the opportunity to tour with them (Moose Blood and Creeper anyone?) and tonight was no different. As he runs up to the balcony and dances amongst the crowd, Zoax frontman Adam Carroll is in his element, as are the rest of the band who throw themselves around the stage delivering tracks from their recently released debut album. Zoax have openly admitted that it was an honour to be asked to be a part of FFAF’s final tour and their performance didn’t let them down. If we have to say goodbye to one band, it’s nice to be excited about a new one.

No matter how much you mature as a person, settle down in life or move on from the ‘phases’ you went through as a teenager, nothing ever really quite prepares you for having to bid farewell to a band you grew up with. “Sorry if you were expecting some fancy entrance music” says frontman Matthew Davies-Kreye, but there’s no need for entrance music, we all know why we’re here and as drummer Casey McHale kicks in with ‘All The Rage’ we are only a countdown away from our closure.

Unsurprisingly the full set is an emotional, yet completely brilliant experience. ‘Streetcar’ unleashes our inner angst, screaming the words “I can’t feel the same about you anymore” over and over. ‘Roses for the Dead’ brings back memories of guitar lessons and desperately trying to master the opening riff and ‘Monsters’, and is just, well, great.

It is ‘History’ though, which makes the whole thing real. “It’s about people standing up for their ideals, it’s about standing up for friends, for family and for community. We stand up for each other.” The words poignant as they leave Matthew’s mouth and as the song begins you can see people stretching their arms around each other, swaying as they sing. It’s at that fucking point where it hits you and suddenly every single emotion; sadness, anger, happiness, everything you felt growing up, it all hits you at once and it’s both the most tragic and beautiful experience you could ever feel.

From here on the rest of the ‘Hours’ performance is a bit of a whirlwind, but of course it can’t just end there. Seven more songs lie between us and the finale, which sees FFAF take the opportunity to perform their new material for the last time, but then something happens that I honestly didn’t think would happen in a million years. They play ‘Into Oblivion [Reunion]’. When that backing track starts and the siren harmonies echo around the venue, I’ve never seen so many people be so happy to hear a song from an album we’d all but forgotten about. However, just when I thought my jaw couldn’t drop any further, it was pushed to its limit by two old yet familiar faces joining the stage. Ex-members Ryan Richards and Darran Smith are welcomed by hordes of celebratory screams, which only increase in volume when they casually dropped ‘Juneau’ into the setlist.

With one last hurrah, Funeral for a Friend bring the show to a close on fan favourite ‘Escape Artists Never Die’ and a lengthy standing ovation follows. It really is hard to believe at that point that you’ll never get to see the band stood in front of you live again. There won’t be another album, anymore merchandise to buy and no more memories to make with them as the soundtrack. Fourteen years as a band is no mean feat and FFAF have done exceptionally well. There have been monumental highs that they should be proud of.

Though they may return to Wales feeling limp and saddened by the outcome of something they dedicated their lives to, what needs to be remembered is how many lives they affected with their music. How many people they helped get through the rough times. When greasy-haired emo kids were being laughed at in school, they found comfort in going home and listening to ‘Hours’ at full volume. They taught us to be honest with ourselves and to never give up on what you believe in. I can’t thank them enough for the inspiration they gave me when I was still figuring out who I was.

Goodbye Funeral for a Friend, byddwch yn ei golli.


Funeral For A Friend: Your history is ours
Funeral For A Friend: Your history is ours

Southampton, May 2003. Five young men jostle for space on the stage of the city’s legendary Joiners Arms, the sweaty back room of which is equally cramped. The gig is sold out, and then some. The band are dressed entirely in black with hair to match, swept across their faces in a style soon to be replicated on MySpace pages across the globe. Neither musicians nor audience have space to move as their frontman awkwardly positions himself directly in front of the drummer, who sports a Britney Spears-style headset mic.

The term ‘emo’ had already been applied to the band, hype for whom was building in both the NME and the rock press. A die-hard fan of the other bands generally assigned that tag, I immediately connected with Matt Davies’ vocals but struggled to reconcile it with how heavy the band were. Harmonic guitar riffs lifted from Iron Maiden seamlessly weaved their way underneath heart-on-sleeve lyrics; Ryan Richards’ raw-yet-refined screaming somehow managing to come across as simultaneously brutal yet singalong.

I’d never seen, nor heard, anything quite like Funeral For A Friend.

Where previously I’d considered Jimmy Eat World’s ‘Bleed American’ to have quite the edge, FFAF’s ‘This Year’s Most Open Heartbreak’ made it sound like the Coldplay singles I’d listened to at school. To this day, that opening riff could probably pull me out of a coma. The Welsh quintet were my gateway into ‘heavy’ music.

At the Joiners that night, the band were supported by a competent and entirely forgettable local band, but Davies made a point of thanking them onstage, of acknowledging that no act exists in a vacuum. We might not have been there specifically to see Flaming Homer (for that was their name), but they were a part of the experience, a part of the scene.

Thirteen years later, Matt Davies-Kreye stands on the stage of Kentish Town’s forum, each of his four bandmates afforded personal space equivalent to the whole of the Joiners’ live room. Head-to-toe black has gone, as have the swept fringes and three-fifths of the band itself. But the passion, the fire, the message remains.

The same old songs on a brand new stereo.

The importance of Funeral For A Friend’s full-length debut, ‘Casually Dressed & Deep In Conversation’, and the band playing it in full tonight, can’t be judged by that record’s quality alone. ‘Casually Dressed’ featured material from both preceding EPs and obviously wasn’t written or conceived as an album in the way that 2005’s ‘Hours’ was. But just as FFAF have always acknowledged the context of their own existence, so ‘Hours’ came only because of its Gold-certified, landscape-altering predecessor.

By making heavy, melodic rock a marketable commodity, it sent a shockwave through the British music scene which we’re still feeling today. Fitting, then, that Creeper – a band currently benefitting from the sea change ushered in all those years ago – should be warming up the crowd tonight. Fitting, but not coincidental. Just as FFAF directed the crowd’s attention to Flaming Homer back in 2003, so tonight they’re putting Creeper in front of two thousand people in order to support the band, sustain the scene, and in many ways hand over the torch.

And in Will Gould, we have a frontman who espouses many of the values Davies-Kreye does. Though Creeper’s gothic brand of straight-up punk rock is barely comparable to Funeral’s post-hardcore, the bands’ shared DNA goes beyond mere genre conventioned. Regaling the crowd with an anecdote about Davies-Kreye’s support of Our Time Down Here (Gould and guitarist Ian Miles’ pre-Creeper effort), there’s a sincerity lacking from so many bands’ onstage ‘banter’.

Support slots like this are also a good way to gauge a band’s readiness to step up to headlining venues this size, and Creeper rise to the challenge magnificently. In particular, material from recent EP ‘The Stranger’ comes to life in a larger room like this. Sure, it’s not the same as seeing them in a tiny club where the crowd know the words to every song, and finishing with ‘Perfect Day’-alike ballad ‘Henley’s Ghost’ strikes me as an odd choice when playing to a room of people who aren’t familiar with your material, but Creeper own the stage for every second they’re on it, and leave it with more than a handful of new converts.

But this isn’t a normal gig. This is a sending-off party, a living wake for a band who introduced many, if not most, of the people in this room to music which changed and enhanced their lives. Authentic to the end, there’s something adorably shambolic to the way the band take the stage to no fanfare, and to the way Davies-Kreye stands, visibly overwhelmed, for several minutes before the band play a note.

“For the last time,” he says, “this is ‘Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation.”

And for the next two hours, Funeral For A Friend play the songs we’ve known and loved for over a decade as if they’re brand new and burning to get out. An early highlight comes when Adam Carroll, frontman of Zoax (who opened the show, again at the band’s invitation) joins the band to deliver the screamed vocals on ‘Juneau’. Carroll delivers with aplomb, and looks so happy to be onstage that I can’t help but grin.

It’s a Funeral show, so of course we’re treated to a short lecture every three songs – but if it’s a choice between a frontman who stops a show to deliver a five-minute treatise on the importance of standing up to abusers, or one who perpetuates the culture that allows abuse to thrive, I’ll take the speech every time. And while he may not be the most concise of public speakers, the passion and gratitude in Davies-Kreye’s voice tugs the heart strings of everyone present.

But the real treat tonight comes when two of the three members of ‘Casually Dressed…’ lineup, Ryan Richards and Darran Smith, re-join the band for a blistering rendition of ‘This Year’s Most Open Heartbreak’. Smith and Kris Coombs-Roberts stand back-to-back, trading and harmonising riffs and for a brief moment, I’m transported back to 2003, back to that cramped pub, and back to a time when this music awakened in me something which has given my endless pleasure, introduced me to some of the best people I know and, through the desire to analyse and share it, lead to the very moment at which I’m typing these words.

The ‘encore’ (though the band never leave the stage) encompasses the remaining tracks from ‘Between Order & Model’ and ‘Four Ways to Scream Your Name’, interspersed with a tearful Davies-Kreye offering heartfelt thanks to the crowd for everything he and the band have been able to achieve over the last 16 years. And by the time Funeral For A Friend play the last song of their last ever show, an utterly devastating rendition of ‘History’, every member of the crowd has “raised their hand for one last salute”. Many are in tears. Unable to let this vital band go, the crowd continue singing the chorus, over and over, as past and present members of Funeral For A Friend in turn hug each other, pose for photographs, and stand, overwhelmed, taking in the last moments of their existence.

Goodbye, Funeral For A Friend. Your history is ours.