The End Of The Road Festival, Larmer Tree Gardens, Wiltshire <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Starting off a festival is a precarious business, and never more so than in mid-September when the nights are drawing in and the weather is changeable. Combined with the fact that punters are entering the unknown, and are probably feeling the effects of a long summer, it's sparsely attended. But there's a nice, laid-back feel, aside from a few raucous blokes making the most of the cider bus.

Headliners number Badly Drawn Boy, Josh Ritter, Ryan Adams, and the Guillemots. On the Friday, things kick off about 6pm, but don't really ignite until the Aussie ex-pat M Craft takes to the stage in the Big Top. His brand of gentle, fuzzy-pop is well received. Shortly after on the main or Garden Stage, Ed Harcourt really impresses. Effectively the British equivalent to Rufus Wainwright (smart, musically gifted, a great singer with a distinctive voice) his dramatic brand of Baroque pop, with a set lifted heavily from his wonderful latest album The Beautiful Lie is the highlight of the day, and one of the highlights of the festival.

The next day sees the likes of Badly Drawn Boy, the Guillemots, British Sea Power, and The Boy Least Likely To. Of these, the Guillemots receive the most rapturous response; the stage theatrics of Fyfe Dangerfield - mostly sat stooped over a bank of synthesisers, but leaping over to a spare drum kit to help bang out a rousing climax to "São Paulo" - providing the 6ft 5in focal point. On the Garden Stage, Badly Drawn Boy is trying out tracks from his new album Born In The UK, the most effective of these being the title track, and the forthcoming single "Promises". But he loses half the crowd, possibly because his polished set is somewhat lacklustre. Even requests such as "Silent Sigh" don't do the trick. More fulfilling are rebel-rousing sets from British Sea Power, Brakes, and ethereal semi-electronic trio Semifinalists (a hot tip for the future).

The next day saw some intriguing solo slots, most notably from Merz, and Giant Sand's Howe Gelb. However, the best-attended show was Richard Hawley's, undoubtedly the crooning man of the moment. With a dry wit and a tight band caressing out decent renditions of tracks such as "Hotel Room", he was certainly a pleasant Sunday night experience, although slightly too "easy listening" for my tastes. Far more upbeat and enjoyable was the Mancunian pop surrealist Jim Noir and his band, who produced a fine set of joyful, cheeky-chappy ditties such as "My Patch" and "Eanie Meany".

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