In 1994, Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson got a call from a bloke at the UN in Bosnia – fancy popping over to do a gig in Sarajevo? Being a bit foggy on the details of the war and the hell-on-Earth siege of Sarajevo, then in its third year, he said: “Yeah, why not.”
An entertaining whiff of Spinal Tap hangs over Dickinson’s anecdotes about his semi-clueless road trip to Sarajevo in this music documentary – an interesting if minor footnote in the history of both the Bosnian war and heavy metal.
Interviewed now, Dickinson (who these days looks more rugby club than rock’n’roll) pokes fun at his shambolic schlep across a war zone with Skunkworks, a couple of musicians he’d been recording with. When the armoured helicopter they were expecting didn’t turn up they bummed a lift to Sarajevo in the back of a van, with a couple of sleeping bags and two crates of beer to keep warm. Slightly surreally, the gig was pulled together by an awfully posh ruddy-faced British major, now retired, interviewed here as if dressed for a shooting party in tweeds and a corduroy waistcoat.
The band’s reminiscences are deeply felt as well as comical. But the doc belongs to the Bosnian metalheads at the gig, now in their 30s and 40s. As teenagers during the siege, every day they were convinced they were going to die. In photos taken at the gig their faces are wild with energy and life. Dickinson’s bassist remembers a musician from the young Bosnian support act asking if he’d brought any drugs with him. Some heroin maybe? Err, no. Drugs are bad for your health. Matter of factly, the guy told him that, with most of his friends dead, “my life expectancy is pretty short already.”
• This article was amended on 15 May, to clarify that the Dickinson band that played Sarajevo in 1994 was called Skunkworks, not Iron Maiden (as said in a subheading, due to an editing error), and to correct the rank of the British soldier interviewed in the film from general to major.