Accompanied by dear friends and our overflowing overnight bags, our rag-tag bunch embarked on a mammoth 400 mile-round trip for one reason only – Funeral For A Friend.
Not an actual funeral as such – as one of my poor sister’s friends discovered after offering his heartfelt condolences – but instead the final shows of a band that we had all held dear for many years.
The Welsh rockers originally split in 2016, and our gang had gathered in Birmingham for two nights to tearfully mosh for one last time to all our favourite songs.
They had never reformed since, simply stating they “had no reason to” – until now.
Dear friend and life-long Funeral For A Friend fan, Stu Brothers, was sadly diagnosed with a terminal illness this summer, and the band decided to strap on their guitars one last time to raise money for the music heavyweight’s young family.
Stu sadly passed before he could see his favourite band perform for one last time, but thousands of music fans gathered in his honour across three nights in Cardiff and London for one last chance to dance.
Hailed as the band’s biggest fan – literally and figuratively – Stu created the first ever fan page for the band, before they even had their own website set up.
He worked tirelessly to propel the Welsh music scene to great heights, and championed alternative culture and its sense of togetherness for generations to enjoy.
Myself, my family and my friends never had the pleasure of meeting Stu himself, but as we raised our hands up high as Roses For The Dead reverberated across O2 Shepherd’s Bush, tears flowed hard and uncontrollably.
Funeral For A Friend were the first band I ever took my sister to see in concert, once our poor mother had finally had enough of listening to legions of men in skinny jeans scream unintelligibly into microphones through my teenage years.
From dingy clubs through to festival stages in the blazing sun, we saw the band time and time again for more than 10 years, despite moving to different cities, studying, and the general changes life threw at us.
After meeting in the beer garden of our favourite pub, myself and my husband – then a handsome young stranger who approached me to talk about films, food and socks, of all things – excitedly chatted about music, something we both found we were incredibly passionate about.
As we listed off our most-loved records and fond memories of concerts from years passed, we discovered a mutual love – you guessed it, Bridgend’s finest, Funeral For A Friend.
Three houses, a menagerie of pets, multiple jobs and a wedding later, we still often find ourselves listening to hit albums Hours or Casually Dressed and Deep In Conversation while driving to the supermarket or cleaning the house – ah, the joys of growing older.
When I landed my first big writing break and got my job right here, the first band I wrote about were Funeral For A Friend and their final shows.
The pieces became the first I ever had in print, now hung proudly in my lounge for every visitor to see.
The Welsh post-hardcore mob were, and still remain, integral to my life, but without people like Stu Brothers, my loved ones and I would have none of these fond memories to hold dear.
His efforts helped introduce the band to the masses, and undoubtedly helped propel their fast-rising popularity.
Their music resounded with a generation of misfits and outsiders and created a safe space for us all, no matter what our backgrounds may be.
The tears my sister and husband shed were not from sadness that they would never see the band again, they were tears of joy as the overwhelming feelings of community and love, that flowed through the very veins of each and every fan at these intimate shows, washed over them.
These emo anthems connected us all in a way that is indescribable.
The sense of belonging that music creates is something so powerful it can save each and every one of us from the brink – I know it certainly has for me.
The powerful lyrics and emotive music help articulate deep and complicated emotions that we may otherwise not be able to express.
Most importantly, it gives us a whole legion of people to relate to in our struggles, showing everyone that they’re not alone in this big and scary world.
After bumping into Funeral For A Friend vocalist Matthew Davies-Kreye in London – the best moment of my entire life... Alongside getting engaged, of course – he told my gushing sister and I just how much of a blow it was to lose Stu, but how beautiful it was for his family to see just how loved he was and be part of something he was so passionate about.
We may have never met him, but my friends, family and I have certainly benefitted from Stu’s dedication to Funeral For A Friend and the community he helped grow from tiny bars in the valleys.
The next time I listen to the hair-raising chords of History – whether it’s tomorrow, or when I’m 80 years old and sitting on my front porch knitting – I’ll be sure to utter thanks to Stu and the thriving local community that touched my life, and many others just like me.
I still long for a Funeral For A Friend reunion, but for now, I will treasure the memories passed and this close-knit community that I hope still thrives for years to come.