After the first ‘Pavarotti and Friends’ concert, we started to plan the Mostar Music Centre. The bulk of income from the Modena concerts and the Eno fundraisers would be spent on construction, but we had to make sure our finances covered equipping, staffing and operating programmes. We’d have to find architects willing to charge us a charity rate.
introduced us to Nicholas Lacey, who had a reputation for a radical
approach to design. Bill and I went to meet him at his office close
to London Bridge. He was keen to take the job and, working with his
engineer, Bryn Bird, was responsible for the first designs of the
Nicholas’s very reasonable costings, the maths wasn’t working.
With no hard feelings, he passed the project over to Mike Lawless of
‘LA’ are not a reference to ‘Los Angeles’, but to ‘Lawless
& Adams’. Based in Lewes, Sussex, Mike and his team had
experience designing hospitals, community and sports buildings. He
agreed to work without fee in the early stages of the project. At
their own expense, his firm supported an associate office in Mostar
run by Nedjad Cupino and sponsored the fitting out of the social
areas at the centre: the apartments, bar and kitchen. Mike told me
that it was one of the toughest projects in his career, but that it
was ‘one of the best and most rewarding times of my life’.
started in early 1996 and Bill and I took it in turns to oversee the
early stages. Mike and his local team were working against the clock
as the building had to be completed in a year. The Bosnian
construction company Hydrogradnja were sub-contracting much of the
work and progress was slow. Mike was spending more and more of his
time in Mostar and I think his UK work must have suffered. In
retrospect, he and his partner, Elizabeth Adams, and Nedjad Cupino
deserved a plaque alongside the one you can find today at the centre
celebrating the name of ‘Luciano Pavarotti’.
centre far from completed, I moved to Mostar in July 1997 to take up
my post as Director. Working from a small shop that had once been a
butcher’s, we started some of our projects. The schools’ music
team were able to begin their programme of school visits and
workshops were held at the local orphanage and at the school for the
In the months
leading up to the December opening of what had now been named the
Pavarotti Music Centre, we had numerous visits from local, and not so
local, politicians. I remember stumbling across ex-Tory minister
Michael – ‘something of the night’ – Howard in the reception
area. He was being shown the nearly completed building by an official
from the EU Administration offices. I asked him what he was doing in
‘I’m on a
fact-finding mission,’ he said.
‘Who are you
meeting to do that?’ I asked.
answered, ‘Mr Howard, you should know better than anyone. You don’t
go to them for facts.’ To his credit, he did laugh.
In July I had
watched Steve Biko’s ex-driver, the percussionist Eugene Skeef, run
workshops in the town. He had been invited to Mostar by Nigel Osborne
and had recently worked with Edmund Mhlongo in KwaMashu. I had heard
about the success of his djembe classes with children in the
UK. Remembering Mandela’s words that our music centre was a project
needed in Africa, I realised that Eugene was a key to
internationalising the Pavarotti Music Centre.
workshops were so successful I offered him the job of Director of
Music Development. He agreed to start work when the building opened.
A few days
before Eugene returned to London, we went to Dubrovnik. There we met
two German doctors who were interested to hear about our work in
Mostar. Eugene had their eyes popping with his words about the
importance of music and rhythm in our lives. One of the doctors said
he spoke like a poet. Eugene laughed and rewarded them with, ‘Listen
for the cadence of the sun in its journey that never ends. When night
falls and the song fades, follow the rhythm of the moon when your
voice disappears like a bird.’
got us a bed for the night. When we told them we were going to sleep
on the beach, they invited us to stay at their hotel, Villa
Dubrovnik. Much to our surprise, there, at the bar, was a politician
I was delighted to meet: Michael Foot and his wife, Jill Craigie.
They told us they stayed there every summer.
Sitting on the
hotel balcony overlooking the old city walls, we discussed the war
and the film he and Jill had made about it, Two Hours from London.
I told them what a good documentary it was, but that it was a bit
light on the Bosnian–Croatian war and that they should visit
Mostar. Michael agreed to come with us the next day. Jill opted out
because she didn’t want to travel on the serpentine coastal and
Eugene and I
showed Michael round Mostar’s Old Town. He was already 84 and
walked very slowly. It was impossible to use a car in Mostar’s
narrow streets, but he was determined to see as much as he could. We
ended our walk at the Centre where he sat down in the uncompleted
courtyard. ‘This is very impressive, David. I am sure you will be
doing wonderful work in this building.’
I drove him back to Dubrovnik and we spent the three-hour drive
discussing politics and poetry. I told him I’d enjoyed Paul Foot’s
Red Shelley, his nephew’s book about the poet. Michael
laughed and broke into:
Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains
to earth like dew Which in sleep had fallen on you – Ye are many –
they are few
After a pause
he added, ‘But you know, Paul is wrong. Byron was the greater poet
and greater revolutionary. Have you read “Darkness”?’
I shook my
Shelley, are you?’ Another pause and then he recited:
on the abyss without a surge –
The waves were dead; the tides
were in their grave, The moon, their mistress, had expir’d
The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air,
clouds perish’d; Darkness had no need Of aid from them – She was
at me. ‘Byron goes further than Shelley. You must read him.’
When I got
back to Mostar later that evening, Eugene and I went to a café
close to the suspension bridge which had replaced the destroyed stone
bridge. We watched in horror as a young man climbed over the rope
handrail and threw himself backwards, like a scuba diver, into the
Neretva, 20 metres below.
We rushed down
to the river and Eugene and I managed to grab hold of his arms. We
thought he should go to hospital, but he said he was okay and got up
to walk away. I persuaded him to come to my flat which was close to
the bridge in Marshal Tito street.
He was soaking
wet and Eugene gave him one of his T-shirts and a pair of his
trousers. Over coffee, he told us his name was Hamid and that he’d
come from Kiseljak in central Bosnia. He had never recovered from the
loss of his mother, father and two sisters in the war. He had an aunt
who had been living in Mostar and had come to look for her.
She, too, had
been killed. In despair, he had spent the last of his money on drink
and had then decided to end his life. He had been disappointed to
find the suspension bridge was four metres lower than the old bridge
which had been 24 metres high at its apex. But he still thought he
would die if he fell backwards into the water. While he was talking,
Eugene played soothing rhythms on his djembe.
When he left
us, we felt guilty we hadn’t been more persistent in insisting he
go to the hospital.
later, a package arrived at my London address. It was a collection of
Byron’s poems with a dedication on the inside cover:
greetings from Michael Foot, with many thanks for a most instructive
visit to Mostar, Sept 1997. Read especially “Don Juan”, right
through non-stop, as I did again. See also “Darkness”. It has
reflections of Mostar.’
remember giving him my address so I assume he must have contacted the
War Child office. All these years later, Michael’s ‘Byron’ is
on my shelf. I dip into the book frequently and always start by
reading the dedication.
still working his magic with his djembe.
Mike Lawless is
still designing buildings.
I don’t know what happened to Hamid
and what he did with his