A Mission To Play Heavy Metal In The Bosnian War, December 1994
Back when I was in Bruce Dickinson’s band, I woke up way too early one day with the phone ringing. It was Bruce. “Morning!” he said chirpily. I looked through the curtains. He was right.
“Yeah, morning!” I agreed.
“We’ve got another gig come in,” he said.
“Great news,” I replied. I love doing gigs.
“It’s Sarajevo,” he said. This was back in 1994 and even in my blurred mind alarms bells started ringing.
“Aren’t they having a war?” I asked.
“Yeah, sort of… but it’s all good. We’re under UN protection and we might get a go in a tank!” he enthused. “Are you up for it?”
“Errr…. OK then,” I tailed off. It was like interrogation under sleep depravation. I’d have said anything to go back to bed right then and besides, I had always wanted a go in a tank.
When I woke up properly a bit later I thought about the strange conversation. Apparently it wasn’t a dream. We were going to do a gig in war-torn Bosnia.
But it hadn’t been in the news for a while and surely Bruce wouldn’t be going anywhere properly dangerous. He’s far from stupid. Most likely the war must have quietened down since the UN peacekeeping force had arrived… or so I thought.
As a bit of background, in the early 1990s the former Serb dominated Yugoslavia slipped into a series of vicious civil wars. Firstly Slovenia broke away from the republic, then a short war with Serbia ensued before Croatia also broke away. Croatia was the second largest (next to Serbia) of the nations of the former Yugoslavia and with a hastily formed army they put up a fierce defence of their new freedom from Serb domination.
Next Bosnia declared independence. Bosnia was in a more difficult position with Serb minorities in the North and East and Croat minorities in the West. The Bosnian Muslims lived mostly in the centre but the divisions between the communities were not clearly defined by borders. All three nationalities lived next door to each other in many towns and all three now turned on each other.
These were especially ruthless wars. No quarter was given to men, women or children. Mass murder, mutilation, torture and organised rape were common. All sides were guilty of atrocities but the Serbs were the perpetrators of some of the worst and on by far the largest scale.
Finally the UN sent in a peacekeeping force to untangle the three warring factions and impose a truce. A no fly zone was enforced, Sarajevo was still under siege but things seemed to have calmed down, at least on the news… or maybe the continued slaughter was simply no longer newsworthy?
So a couple of weeks after the initial call, we’re getting ready to fly to Sarajevo. There were no direct flights (that should have rung more alarm bells), so we were flying to Split in Croatia from Birmingham International. Regular flight from a regular airport, it’s all fine so far…
Just when we got on the plane it occurred to us, perhaps for the first time, that this might not really be alright. The plane was full of British soldiers, there were no holiday makers there. We were the only long haired civilians on board. Everyone else on this plane was going to a war. Oooops!
When we landed at Split airport we were met by Colonel Stuart Green, a British Army officer who was very friendly, full of smiles and lots of hand shaking.
Alex Dickson, Bruce Dickinson and myself at Split Airport
“Thank you so much for coming out here, really so jolly good of you,” he gushed. “But you’ve had a wasted journey, I’m very sorry to say. The show’s off, it’s all gone a bit hairy out there. We can’t guarantee you safe passage into Sarajevo anymore so I’ll get you on the next flight back. But really thank you so much for coming this far”.
Several of us perked up at this news. Oh, well, nice day out, let’s have a sandwich and pop home. But not Bruce. He wanted to know more. How bad was it? Could the mission be rescued? Was there another way we could get through?
I should probably at this point tell you who “we” were. There were eight of us.
Our gang from left to right: Jed front of house engineer, Andy Veasey bass and drum tech, Alex “Sponder” Elena on drums, Bruce Dickinson- you know him already, Bob Edwards guitar tech, Alex Dickson guitarist and Roland Hyams, press agent.
Bruce, he’s the lead singer of Iron Maiden. We’re in the middle of touring his ‘Balls To Picasso’ solo album. He’s also the instigator of this whole scenario and his enthusiasm for it knows no bounds.
Alex Dickson, he’s our guitar hero. He generally prefers guitars to wars.
Alex Elena, we called him Sponder to avoid/create confusion. He’s the drummer and he plays very loud. He’s also Italian I should warn you, and like most of his countrymen (and sensible people all around the world) believes good food should have priority over bloodshed.
Sponder and me at Split Airport
I’m going to be expected to play bass at some point.
Roland Hyams was our press agent and he was coming along to report on events, liaise with folk and handily keep a diary (to which I’ve frequently referred in telling this tale). We absolutely relied on him to keep our spirits up on several occasions.
We had a small road crew with us. Irish Jed was going to be doing our front of house sound (that is if they had a sound system at the gig, we still didn’t know for sure what was going to happen at the venue).
Bob Edwards was Alex’s guitar technician. Bob had put himself firmly in the pacifist camp when on tour one day he had failed to fix the screaming feedback in Alex’s amp but instead had concentrated on building an impressive floral display on stage left.
Andy Veasey was our super-tech looking after Sponder’s drums and my bass. Me and Andy were mates from back in Wales, a top bloke. He was the one person in this scenario that I looked to for common sense on all occasions.
“We should take their advice and go home,” he said solemnly.
But as luck would have it, Bruce had met some folk from a charity group called The Serious Road Trip. They did amazing work. They were mostly foreigners (Brits, Aussies and Kiwis) and they drove truck loads of supplies into worn torn areas then performed circus routines for the local children.
They painted all their trucks in bright yellow with cartoon characters on the sides at a time when every other vehicle on the road was in dark green camouflage. They were doing such a saintly task but worryingly for me, they were all quite clearly insane. They’d take us through, they said.
Me with some Serious Road Trip crew at Split Airport
We arranged to go for dinner with the British Army then meet up later with the ironically named Serious Road Trip.
Dinner was in the UN Other Ranks canteen in Split. It was over-cooked roast beef and veg, just like school dinners but bigger portions. It was great.
A misunderstanding in translation at the UN base in Split
After dinner we had a briefing from Squadron Leader Dave Tisdale, an RAF officer. He took us to a lecture room on camp with a big map of Bosnia on the wall. It had brightly coloured star stickers all over parts of it.
He gave us a background as to the war, showed us the route we’d be taking and told us that until recently they’d contained most of the small in-fighting. Did we have any questions?
I had quite a few actually.
“What are the stars for?” I asked innocently.
“Yes, I thought someone might ask that. As I said until recently we were getting a bit quieter. The stars are fire fights we’ve had reported today. There’s been a quite a few as you can see…” He looked at the very starry map. So did we.
Then we went over to the Serious Road Trip centre. It was a hippy camp in the hills. They were very hospitable and plied us with beer and more food. They were very dedicated to their work in bringing a glimmer of light and fun to Bosnia’s suffering children.
Bruce and our Serious Road Trip Driver at Split Airport
They showed us video footage of them juggling in clown make up for shell-shocked kids. They took orphans for a day at the beach. We were humbled.
The video showed their trucks driving through villages shattered by artillery barrages. One video showed a truck driving along before a shell struck just in front on it. The truck swerved and avoided the falling debris. We were shocked.
Now it was dark we could hear occasional small arms fire in the distance. This was the best time to set off they reckoned. We’d be less visible, that’s what they said.
I don’t think it was only me among us now that was doubting the wisdom of their bright yellow colour scheme. Our truck had Road Runner painted on it too.
Perhaps the beers we’d consumed made us temporarily think this was all going to be fine still, so we got in the ex-military truck. The night was freezing cold.
Most, including Bruce, were in the back. There were no seats so everyone just sat on bits of supplies with a case of beer between them. I volunteered with Bob Edwards to sit up front for the first shift with Dave, the driver.
He was a young New Zealander, very keen, very alert. He crashed the gears, made the most of momentum and never slowed down. The scenery was pitch black except for the dimmed headlights. There were very few street lights; even most towns we passed were in ominous darkness.
Sometimes we drove down proper roads, sometimes roughly hewn tracks on the side of mountains with a cliff drop on one side. At all times we drove full pelt.
Dave told us its best not to go slow as we’d be more likely to be ambushed. As well as three warring armies, bandits would also stop vehicles for their contents. Everyone in the country was armed and hungry.
We stopped once to re-fuel and for a pee. When we jumped down most of us instinctively went to the side of the road to relieve ourselves but Dave called us gently back to the middle of the road.
“Don’t go in the hedges, they’re sometimes mined. The one lot drop a shell on the road, the other lot jump into the hedge for cover and find the landmines. Besides you don’t know who’s in the hedge”.
From then on we just peed out the back of the moving truck or in an empty bottle if needed. Nobody asked for another stop.
We did however stop a couple of times for passport checks at UN checkpoints, one manned by Spanish soldiers, one by Slovaks.
“Hola,” I said to the Spanish soldiers. They ignored me and we drove off.
“Do you speak any Serbo-Croat?” Dave asked me.
“Da, ja govorim malo srpsko-hrvatski,” I said slowly, pleased with my homework.
“When we stop at the local army checkpoints later, don’t speak any Serbo-Croat to them. Ever. No eye contact. You don’t want to get into conversation with them, you don’t need to make friends. Most of them are constantly drunk too, on Slivovic. We just keep quiet and speak when we’re spoken to.”
He looked a little nervous. I took his advice quite seriously now. This wasn’t a game, was it?
We drove on through the night and just as day was breaking and I’d nodded off a little for the first time, we pulled up on the side of Mount Igman and saw Sarajevo lying in the valley below us. But the scene wasn’t as beautiful as we’d hoped…
Read more about the Serious Road Trip’s work at http://www.theseriousroadtrip.org/history/
You can read bassist Chris Dale’s enthralling account of events in:
Radio Sarajevo translated the article into Bosnian and here is their version…
Chris Dale je heavy metalac, basist grupe Tank, koji su nedavno izdali svoj novi album War Machine. Do sada je svirao u mnogim bendovima, frontmen je i pop grupe Sack Trick, radi i na TotalRock radiju, a ostatak vremena radi kao vozač na turnejama “svima onima koji putuju u toplije krajeve”.
U Bosni i Hercegovini, naročito u Sarajevu, pamte ga, pored drugih, po koncertu iz 1994. u ratnom Sarajevu, na kojem je nastupao zajedno sa velikim Bruceom Dickinsonom, liderom Iron Maidena. Na stranici Metaltalk.net objavio je svoju priču o putu u Sarajevu i koncertu. Donosimo prvi dio, a drugi dio će biti objavljen u narednim sedmicama.
Pa zar tamo nije rat?!
U vrijeme kada sam svirao u bendu Brucea Dickinsona, jedno jutro probudio me je telefon: bio je to Bruce. “Jutro”… zacrvkutao je na telefon… Pogledao sam kroz prozor…. bio je u pravu.
“Da, jutro… slažem se.” – “Imamo uskoro još jednu svirku”, rekao je. – “Odlična vijest, volim svirke…”
“Ali sviramo u Sarajevu!” Bilo je to 1994. godine, i u mojoj smušenoj glavi upalila se lampica… Upitao sam: “Zar tamo trenutno nije rat?”
“Pa… tako nešto… Ali sve je OK, pod zaštitom smo UN-a. Kad budemo tamo, morat ćemo se kretati u tenku. Šta misliš o tome?” pitao me.
“Hm… Uredu, onda”, kazao sam u tom bunilu bilo šta samo da se vratim u krevet… Uostalom, oduvijek sam želio da se vozim u tenku..
Jedino smo mi imali duge kose
Nekoliko sedmica kasnije bili smo spremni letimo za Sarajevo. Nije postojao direktan let do tamo, što me dodatno zbunilo, pa smo letili sa aerodroma u Birminghamu do Splita. Još uvijek je sve izgledalo normalno…
Tek kad smo poletjeli, sinulo nam je po prvi put da se stvari mogu zakomplikovati. Avion je bio pun britanskih vojnika. Situacija se činila ozbiljnom. Jedino smo mi imali duge kose, a svi ostali u avionu su ustvari išli u rat…
Kada smo sletjeli u Split, dočekao nas je britanski oficir Stuart Green. Bio je nasmijan i raspoložen.
“Hvala vam mnogo što ste došli ovdje, baš lijepo od vas”, rekao je. – ” Džaba ste putovali ovamo, ništa od nastupa, stvari su se zakomplikovale… Više vam ne možemo garantovati siguran put do Sarajeva, tako da ću vas poslati avionom nazad… Ali stvarno, hvala vam što ste prevalili toliki put…”
Vijest nas je zatekla, ali OK, lijep je dan, pojedimo sendvič i nazad kući. Ali Brucea je zanimalo da li postoji neki drugi način da uradimo ono zbog čega smo došli. Možda postoji neki drugi put do tamo.
U ovom momentu bih vjerovatno trebao objasniti ko smo to “mi”. Bilo nas je sedmero.
Bruceov bezgranični entuzijazam
Bruce je lider Iron Maidena [koji u to vrijeme, kratkoročno, nije bio član Maidena]. Bili smo u sred turneje Balls to Picasso, i on je svakako inicijator čitave ove ideje, a njegov entuzijazam ne poznaje granice.
Alex Dickson je bio naš guitar hero. On je uglavnom preferira gitare u ratovima. Alex Elena, zvani Sponder, bubnjar i svira veoma glasno. Talijan je i voli svoje zemljake (voli također i sve osjećajne ljude na svijetu) i vjeruje da umjesto što ratujemo, trebamo cijeniti dobru hranu.
Roland Hyams je novinar koji nas prati, i njegov zadatak je da izvještava o nastupima. Pisao je dnevnik (koji mi je mnogo pomogao da ispričam ovu priču). Bio nam je moralni oslonac u nekoliko navrata.
Bob Edwards je bio Alexov tehničar za gitaru, a Andey Veasey Sponderov tehničar za bubnjeve i bas.
Andy je razuman čovjek i na njega sam se mogao osloniti. U jednom momentu je rekao: “Poslušajmo njihov savjet i krenimo kući”.
Hipi humanitarci u kamionima
Ne znam jeli nas sreća poslužila ili nije, ali Bruce je upoznao neke ljude iz dobrotvorne organizacije zvane “The Serious Road Trip”. Napravili su odličan posao. Bili su uglavnom stranci, i vozili su kamione sa zalihama hrane u zaraćena područja, a kasnije bi priredili cirkus za lokalne klince.
Ofarbali su sve kamione u svijetlu žutu boju, i na njima naslikali likove iz crtića, u vrijeme kada je svaki drugi kamion bio maskirno zeleni. Činili su svetački posao, ali su ujedno bili dovoljno “ludi” da bi bili u stanju obavljati taj posao. Rekli su da nas mogu odvesti tamo.
Dogovorili smo da odemo na večeru sa britanskim vojnicima, a kasnije smo se ponovo našli sa ekipom ironičnog naziva Serious Road Trip.
Večera je bila sa oficirima visokih činova u Splitu. Za večeru smo imali pečenu govedinu i povrće. Bilo je odlično.
Nakon večere smo imali informativni razgovor sa Daveom Tisdaleom, oficirom RAF-a, britanskih zračnih snaga. Pokazao nam je veliku kartu Bosne i uputio nas u situaciju.
Nakon toga smo otišli do centra Seriuos Road Trip. Bio je to hipi kamp u brdima. Bili su veoma gostoljubivi i ponudili su nas pivom i hranom. Bili su veoma posvećeni svom poslu, pružali su tračak nade i malo zabave napaćenoj bosanskoj djeci.
Pokazali su nam snimke na kojima klauni žongliraju ispred djece. Taj dan su neke od te djece poveli na plažu da se kupaju. Bili smo zapanjeni.
Na snimku se vide njihovi kamioni koji prolaze kroz razrušena naselja. Na jednom snimku se čak vidi kamion u momentu dok granata pada ispred njega. Bili smo u šoku.
Većina gradova bila je u mraku
Već je pala noć, a u daljini su se mogle čuti povremene detonacije od granatiranja. “Bilo bi najbolje da isključimo svu opremu, da što manje privlačimo pozornost…”, rekli su nam.
Mislim da nisam bio jedini koji je počeo sumnjati u “mudrost” žuto ofarbanih kamiona… Naš kamion je na sebi imao naslikanu Pticu Trkačicu.
Vjerovatno su pive koje smo popili učinile to da još uvijek mislim kako će sve biti uredu, pa smo ušli u jedan od vojnih kamiona. Noć je bila hladna. Većina je, uključujući Brucea, sjedila pozadi. Pošto nije bilo sjedišta, svi smo sjedili na kutijama od namirnica, sa kartonom pive između. Bob Edwards i ja smo se dobrovoljno javili da sjedimo naprijed.
Dave je bio vozač. Mladić sa Novog Zelanda, veoma oprezan i napet. Bio je potpuni mrak i nismo nikako stali. Samo ponegdje je bilo ulične rasvjete. Većina gradova kroz koje smo prošli je bila u mraku.
Ponekad smo se vozili pravim cestama, a ponekad grubo isklesanim stazama po planinama, gdje su visoke litice uvijek bile sa jedne strane. Išli smo punom paprom.
Svi su naoružani i gladni
Dave nam je rekao kako je najbolje da idemo brzo, u protivnom ćemo naletjeti na zasjedu. Pored tri zaraćene armije, vrlo često se dešava da kamione zaustavljaju lokane bande radi pljačke. Svi su u ovoj zemlji ili naoružani ili gladni.
Stali smo jednom da napunimo gorivo i obavimo nuždu. Kada izlaziš iz kamiona, instinktivno staneš uz cestu da se “olakšaš”, ali Dave nas je polako zovnuo i rekao da ne obavljamo nuždu na terenu pored ceste, jer on vrlo lako može biti miniran. Od tada smo svi obavljali nuždu sa zadnjeg dijela kamiona u pokretu, ili u staklene boce, ako je za to bilo potrebe. Niko više nije tražio da stanemo.
Nekoliko puta i kada jesmo stali, bilo je zbog kontrole pasoša. Bila su dva UN-ova punkta, jedan španski, drugi slovački.
Uglavnom su na šljivovici
“Hola”, rekao sam jednom španskom vojniku koji potpuno izignorisao… Nastavili smo dalje.
“Priča li ko od vas imalo srpsko-hrvatskog jezika?” pitao nas je Dave. – “Da, ja govorim malo…” zadovoljno mu odgovorih…
“Kada budemo stali na jednom od lokalnih stajališta, nemoj im se uopće obraćati na srpsko-hrvatskom jeziku. Nipošto. Ni kontakt očima. Vjeruj mi da ne želiš ni pokušati razgovarati s njima, niti da se sprijateljiš s njima. Većina njih je konstantno pijana, i to na šljivovici”.
Od tog momenta smo šutili i pričali samo onda kad nam se neko obrati. Dave je izgledao nervozno. Shvatili smo ga ozbiljno. Ovo više nije igra, zar ne?
Vozili smo se dugo u noć, i taman nekad pred zoru, uspio sam zaspat. Stali smo na planini Igman i tu sam prvi put vidio Sarajevo kako se dolinom pruža ispred nas. Ali prizor nije bio tako prijatan kako smo se nadali…