Your History is Mine – Exploring the Legacy of Funeral For A Friend
It takes a truly special band indeed to achieve what the legendary Welsh group Funeral For A Friend has accomplished over their sixteen year-long history. From humble beginnings in Bridgend, practicing the opening chords of 10:45 Amsterdam Conversations in (ex-guitarist) Darran Smith’s garage to selling out arenas and attaining a gold-status album with their (and I use this word very sparingly) perfect debut Casually Dressed & Deep In Conversation, this band has accomplished so much, not just in regard to making a colossal footprint in the British rock scene throughout their impressive reign, but the way they shaped the genre of post-hardcore into what it is (or what its remnants are) today.
So when the band announced on Facebook halfway through September this year that they were breaking up – after achieving so fucking much – I was at a loss for words. Funeral For A Friend has been a part of my life for so long, and in pretty much every way possible (throughout my teenage years at school and University in particular) so to read that they were finally calling it a day after sixteen fruitful years was a pretty emotional occurrence in my daily Facebook scroll. However, I can’t say I was all that surprised – the band had been through some tough times in the past few years, with original members Smith, ex-bassist Gareth Ellis-Davies and drummer Ryan Richards all leaving in relatively quick succession and their last few albums (though nevertheless fantastic pieces in their own respects) showed signs of the band slowing down, so in the band’s own words, they decided to pack it in - “…it’s time for this to end then we end it on our own terms, no one else’s.” And that’s exactly what they’ve done, and it’s well worth exploring the legacy that the band left behind.
One of the many, many praises that can be sung for Funeral For A Friend is the band’s artistic consistency and conviction, especially in relation to their evolution throughout the years. In order to get a true taste of the band’s malleable yet distinctive sound, you would do well to wrap your ears around their 2009 greatest hits album Your History Is Mine: 2002 – 2009. It ranges from the band’s early b-sides (and, like so many other bands, containing some of their best work to date) such as the aforementioned debut single 10:45 Amsterdam Conversations, emotive scream-fest This Year’s Most Open Heartbreak, or the bouncy, energetic riffing of Kiss and Makeup (All Bets Are Off). However, the compilation also showcases the band’s evolution from these thrashy, aggressive beginnings (also exhibited well on their Four Ways To Scream Your Name and Between Order and Model) to the more expressive, superbly-composed masterpieces taking pride of place on 2003’s CDADIC, which will be my favourite album of all time. There is not a single song, not a single moment in which you think “Hmm, this bit isn’t too great. Let’s put Juneau back on!” – the whole thing is sublime from start to finish, inviting the listener into a narrative constructed by vocalist Matthew Davies-Kreye detailing lyrical issues such as heartbreak, the media, domestic abuse, and being pissed as a fart (the latter being the chief lyrical content on mesmerising outro Novella.
However, the genius of Funeral For A Friend does not stop at Casually Dressed, despite it being the band’s best album. The band’s 2005 full-length, Hours, is another damn near-perfect effort, exhibiting the band’s revolutionary style, moving away from the bouncing, major riffs of CDADIC and exploring some dark new territory, bringing us nicely to their most recent releases, such as 2008’s Memory and Humanity, or the recently-released Chapter and Verse. Thus, I’ve compiled a list of the band’s standout tracks from every one of their best releases to date.
Between Order and Model (2002)
10:45 Amsterdam Conversations – The reason I picked this song first is due to the fact that the entirety of the band’s sound is encapsulated in it. Boasting an absolutely pummelling verse section, complete with Richards’ signature screams, blends perfectly with Davies-Kreye’s soaring vocals in the chorus and outro. The guitar work of Kris Coombs-Roberts and Smith is as catchy as it is punishing, and serves as the first example of the guitar techniques Roberts and Smith became renowned for, marrying soaring leads with intricate staccato picking, often both at once. A phenomenal track.
Red Is the New Black – Featuring some rather profound lyrics from Davies-Kreye, exploring the concept of the perception of beauty in media and its shallowness (an idea also touched upon in CDADIC’s She Drove Me To Daytime Television), the chorus of Red Is the New Black is a true crowd-pleaser, showcasing Kreye’s exceptional vocal talents in addition to Richards’ brutal yells, the latter added in the 2013 re-release.
The Art of American Football – Quite honestly a somewhat criminally-underrated FFAF classic, this short but sweet blistering track grapples with the idea of oppressive government (again touched upon on Hours’ History) while repeatedly punching the listener in the face with super speedy riffs and bludgeoning blastbeats.
Casually Dressed & Deep In Conversation (2003)
Juneau – Although there had already been a previous version of this song on the band’s debut EP, Juneau undoubtedly gave this album the sound it is now famed for in British music. Matthew Davies-Kreye often muses that he doesn’t even have to sing the lyrics himself on stage any more, as it is such a fan favourite that they just sing them back to him. This version of the track also features some stunning background vocals from Ellis-Davies (in contrast to Richards’ screams on the earlier version Juno), additionally containing the band’s most memorable lyrics, for example “Yet I’m nothing more, than a line in your book.” Another one of my personal favourites, Juneau is the perfect song.
Novella – This is another one that often gets thrown to the wayside, which is a shame as it’s one of FFAF’s finest tracks. What’s particularly superb about this song, in addition to the intricate guitarwork constantly firing off between Roberts and Smith is the blend of heavy verses and anthemic choruses, detailing the experinces of Davies on a night out, at least by the sounds of it. It additionally forms the perfect ending to the album, as the instruments drop away one by one, complete with emotive chords and piano.
She Drove Me To Daytime Television – If you didn’t hear about Funeral For A Friend because of Juneau then you probably heard them through this song. Containing probably the most uplifting chorus and outro of the entire album, it is one of the instances where FFAF exhibit all of their instrumental skill, blending it perfectly with Kreye’s vocals. As I’ve said numerous times already, Casually Dressed and Deep In Conversation is a brilliant album from start to finish, but make sure you sing along if you’re lucky to hear this banger live.
Roses For the Dead – Picking favourites from this album is almost as impossible as it was in the last section, due to Hours being FFAF’s second-best release. Tracks like All The Rage do a brilliant job of demonstrating the band’s evolution from CDADIC to Hours, highlighting more metaphysical lyrical content and composition styles, but Roses For the Dead depicts the true heartfelt lyrics of Kreye, telling the story of a friend’s suicide (something Bridgend has somewhat become infamous for in recent memory) and the impact it had on the community around him. Profound stuff, coupled with one of the most perfectly crafted, uplifting chorus you’ll ever hear from these guys.
Alvarez – Another illegitimately underrated track, the guitars on Alvarez make it a staunch contender for the best song the band has ever written. Kris Coombs-Roberts’ lead guitar throughout the verse is as difficult to play as it is mesmerizing and intricate, and the outro of the track forms the perfect segue into slow burner Sonny to finish out the release. Dealing with LGBT issues and abuse, Matt’s lyrics form the perfect addition to the guitars in this song.
History – Being from Wales, certain parts of which have, in the past, been dealt very shitty hands thanks to a Thatcherite government, a large amount of Funeral For A Friend’s lyrical content deals with growing up in the area, and the problems that come with it. The band’s Welsh roots can be distinguished in other songs, such as Kicking and Screaming from 2008’s Memory and Humanity or Grand Central Station from the 2013 reissue of Between Order and Model, but it manifests most strongly in History, grappling with the mining strikes in the mid 80’s. Not a complicated song by any means, Kreye’s positive and embracing lyrics are another fan favourite, and I was lucky enough to sing along to this in Leeds during their January tour, just before a most welcome rendition of Roses For the Dead – a well renowned classic.
Tales Don’t Tell Themselves (2007)
Into Oblivion (Reunion) – TDTT was certainly a very ambitious album from the get-go, and the problems in its creation are documented well. Somewhat in keeping with a concept album, Tales tells the story of a fisherman who has been lost at sea, and wonders if he will ever see his family again. Into Oblivion kicks things of in a choral, epic-sounding manner, with a resounding chorus and bridge, detailing the despair of the fisherman, staring into the abyss. Probably FFAF’s most famous song to the casual listener, Into Oblivion is a great display of musical prowess and storytelling rolled into one song.
The Great Wide Open – This is a relatively unknown FFAF gem, and although there is a superb video of the band playing it in session at the Air Studio in London, it often gets overshadowed by the singles on the album. The lyrics deal with the metaphysical embodiment of water and the waves in the view of the main character, contrasted with the relatively upbeat and elaborate guitars, though the chorus and bridge sections brings a nice bit of emotive grit to the song.
Kicking and Screaming – This choice was admittedly a toss-up between this song and Walk Away, another superb example of Matt’s poignant storytelling ability, though the nostalgia of looking back on his and his friends’ growing up in South Wales. While songs like History and Roses For the Dead deal with the trials and tribulations of the bands’ childhoods in Wales, Kicking and Screaming has a slightly more positive outlook on things, even if some of the lyrical content still deals with the negatives.
I’m going to leave it there, for space’s sake – there are a whole host of other great FFAF tracks, and you’ll find most of the rest on their 2008 album Memory and Humanity. Still, the best songs you’ll ever come across are on the albums listed above, and I can say with confidence that albums such as Casually Dressed and Deep In Conversation and Hours will stand the test of time and succeed in reminding people throughout the ages of the majesty and brilliant of the British post-hardcore scene. Funeral For A Friend are touring in 2016 and are playing CDADIC and Hours at their farewell shows. It’s the last chance you’ll ever have to see them live (a brilliant experience) so I implore you to get yourself to those gigs. I’m heartbroken to see such an important band split, but Funeral For A Friend have honestly shaped music in such a way that their legacy shall live on forever.