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Last Updated: Friday, 24 March 2006, 19:09 GMT
Poet boycotts Condoleezza concert
Roger McGough
Roger McGough said he did not want to take sides
Liverpool poet Roger McGough has pulled out of a gala concert to welcome Condoleezza Rice to the city, amid protests by anti-war campaigners.

The US Secretary of State arrives in Liverpool later this month as part of an official visit to the UK.

McGough was due to compere a performance by the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

Anti-war campaigners, including the Merseyside Stop the War Coalition, are expected to protest outside the event.

McGough is former member of 1960s pop band The Scaffold, along with Paul McCartney's brother Mike. Their most memorable hit was Lily the Pink.

Condoleezza Rice
Dr Rice will arrive in Liverpool on 31 March

McGough said he did not want to take sides over the issue.

"I was asked some weeks ago to host it," he told the BBC.

"It was a celebration of Liverpool talent really and the links between Liverpool and America - New York you know, the city of culture and so forth.

"Jack Straw bringing Condoleezza Rice over to witness the regeneration and all that sort of thing.

What started off as a celebration has divided the city
Roger McGough
"I accepted to do it, I thought it was a good thing to do - probably without realising the depth of feeling and the storm it has caused.

"What started off as a celebration has divided the city and divided feelings rather than uniting it.

"I was anti-war, I hate the idea of the war and anything else, but that apart, I could have stood on the stage and celebrated Liverpool - but maybe you can't ignore these things."

McGough's unique style of poetry was nurtured in the clubs and coffee bars of the Toxteth district of Liverpool in the wake of Beatlemania.

Dr Rice is due to arrive in Liverpool on 31 March.

The Merseyside Stop the War Coalition wrote to McGough to praise him for his "very brave, honourable decision."

"I think it shows that you are a man of conscience and principle," wrote Mike Holt, the group's chair.

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