Wiganer took Iron Maiden singer to Bosnia for secret gig

The extraordinary story of a Wiganer who took heavy metal legend Bruce Dickinson to Bosnia for a secret gig in a war zone has been put on screen.

Friday, 20th April 2018, 3:19 pm
Updated Friday, 20th April 2018, 3:26 pm
Martin Morris with Bruce Dickinson at the pre-release showing of Scream For Me Sarajevo

Documentary Scream For Me Sarajevo, which is out on general release this week, tells the tale of Whelley serviceman Martin Morris arranging for the singer best known for fronting Iron Maiden to visit the besieged city of Sarajevo in 1994.

Martin, who was a major in the British Army attached to the United Nations protection force at the time, decided music was the best way to lift the spirits of the Bosnian civilians living in unimaginable terror amid daily attacks on the city which indiscriminately killed people.

Having been a fan of rock music since his early days and thinking the style would be popular in Sarajevo he arranged for Dickinson and his band Skunkworks to visit the city.

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He recalled the incredible difficulties he faced putting on the gig with heightened security risks, scepticism from his military bosses and the obvious problems associated with getting one of the world’s most recognisable musicians into the middle of a war zone.

Martin, 58, said: “Sarajevo was the longest siege in modern history and it was part way through it, in December 1994, that I had what was described at the time as a bizarre idea.

“I wanted to provide the youth of Sarajevo with a few hours of escape from the reality of war. It took quite a few phone calls to various people but eventually I talked to Bruce Dickinson and he agreed.

“There were huge security implications. Before the concert the general, Sir Michael Ross, summoned me to his office and said the gig could not happen.

I had to tell him everything was in place and the band was already on the way.

“He couldn’t send me home either because the airport was closed due to rocket and mortar attacks.

“We were also supposed to be supported financially by Unesco but 48 hours beforehand they pulled out, saying it was too risky. On top of all this I had my day job, so it was quite a hectic period.

“Bruce arrived in Split and the helicopter which should have brought him to Sarajevo wasn’t available so we arranged for these complete nutters who drove around in big old army wagons to bring him to Bosnia.

“We went through the checkpoints in these Danish armoured personnel carriers and we had an NBC film crew with us. I told them not to get out of the vehicle at all but at one checkpoint they popped the camera through the mortar hatches.

“Their equipment was confiscated and I was arrested and taken for interview, but eventually I managed to get it all back.

“We got to Sarajevo late afternoon and we gave the band a sightseeing tour of the city. That probably wasn’t very wise given the situation but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

“I had no idea if anyone would come but we opened the doors of the Bosnian Cultural Centre and the place was just flooded with people. It was absolutely packed.

“Two local Bosnian bands went on first and then Bruce came on with his band. It was just a complete success.”

The gig, which Martin had only been able to promote quietly using an underground radio station he appeared on for fear the Serbs would find out about it, became part of Bosnian folklore.

That was how the film-makers from the country who would produce Scream For Me Sarajevo heard about the tale and were inspired to do years of research.

For Martin, who was tracked down and asked to feature as it would be a documentary-style production, it was an extremely emotional journey back to the place he had served and to find out just how much his concert meant to the Sarajevo residents who went to it.

He said: “I met the director in Manchester over a beer and a pizzas. He showed me a 10-minute clip of how he saw the film coming together. I welled up, got very emotional and said I absolutely was interested in doing it.

“Myself and the rest of the guys went to Bosnia to do the filming. I was amazed how much Sarajevo looked like any other western city and lacked the destruction I had witnessed, apart from where things had been deliberately retained to tell the story of the war.

“It was a massive rollercoaster. In 1994 I took Bruce and his guitarist to an orphanage and they played some acoustic songs. When we went back we put on a concert and were introduced on stage, and in the audience there were people from that orphanage.

“We also went back to Sarajevo for the premiere screening in 2016 and during the Q&A a woman stood up and said she had been an orphan and that day had changed her life 20 years ago. Over the years I’ve had so many messages from people who said it was a life-changing experience.

“It has had more impact than I could ever have hoped for at the time. The film isn’t just about a concert I organised, it’s about the resilience of the people and the death and destruction that occurs in any war.

“You can apply this film to a number of areas around the globe today. It’s something I’m very proud to have been involved in.”

Martin and Bruce teamed up again for the London premiere where they did a Q&A and he is introducing the film at a Stockport screening.

Scream For Me Sarajevo is on general release now.