The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo


Last Friday night we went to the Royal Military Tattoo in Edinburgh, Scotland.

According to Wikipedia, “The word ‘Tattoo’ is derived from ‘Doe den tap toe’, or just ‘tap toe’ (‘toe’ is pronounced ‘too’), the Dutch for ‘Last orders’. Translated literally, it means: ‘put the tap to’, or ‘close or turn off the tap’. The term ‘Tap-toe’ was first encountered by the British Army when stationed in Flanders during the War of the Austrian Succession.”  Apparently the British army started playing a song at last call, to notify all the soldiers to return to the barracks, and so the military tattoo came into existence.  Sometime in the 18th century the tattoo became a form of performance, usually involving a pipe and drum band.

2010 marks the 60th anniversary of the tattoo in Edinburgh, and the first year that the tattoo is officially “Royal”.  Queen Elizabeth gave them the right to be called the Royal Military Tattoo in honor of their 60 years of service; all proceeds from the event go towards charity. Over the years the Tattoo has given £5 million to various charity organizations. More importantly, the Tattoo brings in £88 million every year into the Scottish economy.

Over 217,000 people see the tattoo every year, about 10,000 at each performance. Performances are every evening in August, and twice on Sundays. It has also never been cancelled due to the weather. They march rain or shine!  Luckily for us we didn’t get any rain, which is pretty unusual. Almost everyone had a rain poncho of some sort, but I think it would be pretty miserable in the wet. We did bring an extra blanket, which we used as it got later in the evening.

The tattoo takes place on the parade grounds in front of Edinburgh Castle, which is really beautiful. It’s an amazing venue on top of the hill, with beautiful views. The castle was definitely my favorite part of the whole trip, and I’m sad that we didn’t get to explore it more. During the performance the castle was lit in different colors, which really added a nice backdrop.

I was surprised because the performance didn’t just include marching bands. There were highland dancers, trampoline gymnasts, a kid’s motorcycle display team, and a few horses. The bands were from Scotland, New Zealand, Jordan, and from The Citadel in South Carolina. All the bands had some bagpipes, and most were brass only, but there were a few clarinets and flutes as well. There were lots of kilts, of course, and more plaid than I’ve seen anywhere in my life!

It’s important to know that the Military Tattoo is nothing like American marching band, or even American Drum & Bugle Corps.  There are no complex formations and no sets. Basically they just march back and forth across the parade ground. Occasionally they would form an X or a circle, but mostly it was just parade marching.

It is pretty neat when they turn around and walk back through the rest of the band, but that’s a pretty simple move. If you go expecting to see the Cadets of Bergen County, you’re going to be disappointed. I will say that the drumlines were quite impressive.

One of the guest bands was from New Zealand, and during their performance they included Maori chanting, and some moves from traditional Maori war dances. It was great! They projected this image on the castle. There were a lot of New Zealanders and Australians in the audience, and they really liked it.

My favorite part (I think it’s everyone’s favorite part) was the end, when the entire stadium goes dark, and there is just one lone piper on top of the castle. It’s quite impressive!  We couldn’t get a picture though, because it was too dark. There were also some pyrotechnics, although it wasn’t the full firework display they have on Saturday nights. The cannons in the castle were also used to dramatic effect.

The only drawback to the whole evening was the seating. I had imagined bleacher seats, but instead there were teeny tiny fold down seats, with practically no leg room. I know we weren’t the only ones with pinched shins, because at the end when everyone stood for Scotland the Brave, there were quite a few groans from the crowd!  I could barely walk at the end!  But I did just read that they are getting new stands for 2011, which will hopefully be more comfortable.

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Posted on 17/08/2010, in Exploring the UK, travel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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