Page last updated at 11:35 GMT, Wednesday, 26 August 2009 12:35 UK

Brass band defends visit to Libya

Burry Port Town Band
Burry Port Town Band said it had been asked to perform at the military tattoo by its organisers over a year ago

A brass band from Carmarthenshire has defended its decision to take part in a festival in Libya to mark 40 years of Colonel Gaddafi's leadership.

It comes as the decision to release Libyan man Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi - convicted of the Lockerbie bombings - continues to draw fierce criticism.

Burry Port Town Band said the political row should not stop them performing in the military tattoo in September.

The band were booked last year and said they were "musicians not politicians".

African leaders, including Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, will be at the event.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he was "repulsed" by the jubilant scenes that greeted the man found guilty of killing 270 people in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing on his return to Libya.

Megrahi and Colonel Gaddafi's son
Megrahi received a jubilant reception when he returned

Megrahi, who has terminal prostate cancer, was freed from prison in Scotland on compassionate grounds after a decision by the Scottish Government's last week.

US president Barack Obama has said the decision was "a mistake" and some US victims' families reacted angrily.

But Burry Port Town Band, who plan to perform the popular Welsh folksong Sospan Fach (Little Saucepan) in front of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, said they did not want to become part of the row and that they were "musicians not politicians".

Speaking at their last rehearsal before flying to Tripoli, the brass band's chairman Marc Scaife defended the decision to accept an invitation to the event which celebrates 40 years since Colonel Gaddafi came to power in a coup.

"The timing is difficult although this festival was planned over a year ago," he said.

"We had no idea the crisis would come. The purpose of this tattoo, this festival, is to bring nations together in the spirit of camaraderie and that's the approach we're taking going out there."

He said the band were aware of the strong feelings of those upset by Megrahi's release.

"We have to consider their feelings and as an organisation we will be behaving responsibly.

"We will be there putting on a good show for our country in the right spirit and the right tone and context."

If you asked me a year ago which country I would be visiting in my lifetime I don't think Libya would have been on that list
Ceri John

It is understood the band were asked to perform at the event because their musical director is one of the organisers of the World Festival of Military Music in Tripoli.

Craig Roberts, who is also a peripatetic music teacher from Treorchy, Rhondda, is thought to have made contacts in Libya after helping organise a tattoo in Moscow in 2007.

Burry Port Town Band assistant musical director Ceri John said Mr Roberts was asked to help out when Libya decided to organise their own event.

Mr John said the band were all excited about the trip to the festival, which starts on 1 September.

"If you asked me a year ago which country I would be visiting in my lifetime I don't think Libya would have been on that list. And the same goes for everybody," he said.

"And we're representing Wales so it should be interesting."



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