North Korea invites Eric Clapton to play Pyongyang

LONDON (Reuters) - North Korea invited guitar legend Eric Clapton to play in its capital, the communist country’s embassy in London said on Tuesday as the New York Philharmonic gave a historic performance in the hermit state.

Muscian Eric Clapton (L) performs at the Singapore Indoor Stadium January 13, 2007. North Korea has invited Clapton to rock its capital, a spokesman for the Communist country's embassy in London said on Tuesday. REUTERS/David Yeo

An embassy spokesman said a letter had been sent to Clapton’s agent asking the musician to perform in Pyongyang.

“If he plays a concert in Pyongyang it will be a good opportunity for the Korean people to understand Western music,” the spokesman said.

“He is a world-famous guitarist. Eric Clapton is quite well known not only in the U.K. but in the entire world,” he said. “So it would be fantastic if he would come to play in Pyongyang.”

Such a concert would make the British 62-year-old Grammy-winning singer of “Layla” and “Cocaine” the first Western rock star to play Pyongyang.

But Clapton’s U.S. spokeswoman said there was no agreement on a performance.

“Eric Clapton receives numerous offers to play in countries around the world,” she said in a statement. “There is no agreement whatsoever for him to play in North Korea, nor any planned shows there.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il’s son and purported heir apparent, Kim Jong-Chol, is said to be a fan of Clapton. In June 2006, Japan’s Fuji TV broadcast footage of a man the network said was Kim at Clapton concerts in Germany.

The younger Kim, apparently accompanied by his girlfriend and several North Korean bodyguards, attended four Clapton concerts in Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Leipzig and Berlin, Fuji TV said.

After years of isolation, North Korea appears to be encouraging cultural exchanges with the West.

The New York Philharmonic, the oldest U.S. symphony orchestra, played in North Korea on Tuesday in a concert broadcast live on the country’s only television station.

Washington, which is negotiating to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, said it expected future cultural exchanges to depend on progress in nuclear talks.

But the embassy spokesman said North Korea was sending a symphony orchestra to Britain this year and wanted to invite a British musician in return, whenever Clapton’s schedule permits.

“I think that the matter will be decided by Mr. Eric Clapton. We have invited him at his convenient time,” he said.

Reporting by Peter Graff in London and Michelle Nichols in New York, editing by Keith Weir and Eric Walsh