A Scottish aid worker has revealed how he helped smuggle one of heavy metal music’s biggest stars into Sarajevo for a string of morale-boosting concerts at the height of the Bosnian war.
Bruce Dickinson, the frontman of Iron Maiden, played a series of intimate shows in the city at a time when it was under siege from Serbian artillery and snipers.
For years, the singer’s shows have been a footnote in heavy metal lore, but as a new documentary charts the unlikely story in detail for the first time, a former United Nations worker from Dumfries and Galloway has revealed how he played a crucial role in making the concerts possible.
Trevor Gibson, who worked as a negotiator for the UN’s fire department in the war-torn city, helped spirit Mr Dickinson through the war zone in December 1994. The 52-year-old from Annan said: “Initially we tried to get the Rolling Stones, but they turned it down. Then we asked Motorhead who said ‘yes’ and then pulled out a few weeks before the gig. So we called the editor of heavy metal magazine Kerrang! and asked who would be crazy enough to do this, and he said ‘call Bruce Dickinson’.”
Dickinson, whose band has sold more than 100 million albums worldwide, agreed to the idea and organisers set about planning his arrival.
“The plan was for him to fly from Britain to Split on a commercial flight,” Mr Gibson explained. “A UN helicopter would fly him into Sarajevo, he’d play the gig and be flown back to Split again.”
If the logistics were straightforward, the conflict raging in and around the city soon threw a giant spanner in the works. The helicopter that was to have flown Dickinson into the Bosnian capital was shot down the day before the flight, forcing a quick rethink on transport arrangements.
“We didn’t have a helicopter,” Mr Gibson said. “So Bruce hitchhiked with the humanitarian group, Serious Road Trip, and we smuggled him across the line.”
The unlikely mission ended in success. Dickinson played three gigs in all – a full-scale show to 1,000 people and two acoustic sets at an orphanage on the frontline and a UN fire house.
In his autobiography, Dickinson wrote of the first concert: “The gig was immense, intense and probably the biggest show in the world at that moment for the audience and for us.
“That the world didn’t know didn’t matter. It changed the way I viewed life, death and other human beings.”
The story of the Bosnia concerts is told in a new documentary, Screaming for Sarajevo, which includes interviews with Dickinson.