Edinburgh Tattoo Delights Thousands

Fireworks over Edinburgh Castle

Fireworks over Edinburgh Castle

Throughout the month of August in Edinburgh, look up to the sky above Edinburgh Castle at approximately 10:30pm and you’ll be greeted with a spectacular firework display. It’s currently festival time in Edinburgh, so this nightly nocturnal pyrotechnic treat means the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has reached it’s grand finale for another evening.

Performed every night from the 2nd till the 24th of August (except on Sunday), the tattoo features pipers, drummers, highland dancers, army regiments and other performers appearing in over 80 musical acts on the historic Edinburgh Castle esplanade. I was very fortunate to receive a complimentary ticket courtesy of the New Zealand Army Marching Band – one of the four international acts performing at this years event. The night I attended was the final dress rehearsal before the tattoo officially began. Even still, the grandstand was packed to capacity and photographers and cameramen dodged performers on the esplanade capturing promotional footage before the grand opening the following evening.

The word tattoo comes from the Dutch ‘doe den tap toe’ which translated literally means ‘close the (beer) tap’. The term was first encountered by the British Army when stationed in Flanders during the War of the Austrian Succession. The British adopted the practice and it became a signal, played by a regiment’s Corps of Drums or Pipes and Drums each night to tavern owners to turn off the taps of their ale kegs so that the soldiers would retire to their billeted lodgings at a reasonable hour.

The tattoo seats up to 9000 folk per evening, and every night is a sell out. At the time of writing this, there are only a limited number of tickets left for two performances in the final week of the shows run. With 24 performances scheduled throughout August, it means at least 216,000 people will see the show this year. So if you’re lucky enough to have a ticket, it’s a good idea to turn up to the castle early as the queues leading up to the esplanade are orderly, but absolutely teeming.

The show begins

The show begins

The theme of the 2013 Tattoo celebrates the Year of Natural Scotland, paying homage to the wonderful and abundant landscapes and wildlife of Scotland. The show began with students from a local drama school spilling out of the castle’s gate, simulating the volcanic beginnings of the rock that Edinburgh Castle is perched upon. An impressive fanfare of the Massed Pipes and Drums followed with military precision, much to the delight of the audience.

Four international acts were divided into four seasons featuring a spring time saunter by the Republic of Korea Ministry of National Defence Band and Dancers, and an action packed summer-infused number from Mexico featuring the Monumental Jaguares Marching Band. I’m not really sure how the New Zealand Army Marching Band’s piece evoked Autumn, but it was fun nonetheless, with the band infusing contemporary songs such as Gangnam Style and the theme from Game of Thrones with a precise performance from the Lochiel Marching Drill Team. I felt rather sorry for the cameraman who got trapped at one point between the band and the drill team – he was knocked to the ground and trampled by the entire marching band in full view of the audience. I’m glad to report he was up and off again with his camera in tow moments later. Then as the temperature began to drop, the Central Orchestra of the General Staff of the Mongolian Armed Forces began their wondrous lament to the coldest time of year.

Team Mexico

Team Mexico

The final part of the show featured bands of the Irish Guards, the Royal Logistic Corps and The Rifles who joined the Massed Military Bands against projections of Scottish flora and fauna on the castle exterior. There was also an appearance by the impressive life-size horse puppet Joey from the stage production of War Horse. The combination of all of the performers from the evening, the fireworks and the lone piper provided an colourful and inspiring finale to the evening.

Projection on Edinburgh Castle during Korea's performance

Projection on Edinburgh Castle during Korea’s performance

It was a particularly balmy evening, which I hear is rather unheard of during festival time – my jacket even stayed under my seat the entire time. At times the Tattoo seemed a little more ‘Olympics Opening Ceremony’ than military band performance, and there wasn’t as much piping as I thought there would be. Perhaps one of the most spectacular sights were the son et lumière displays projected on to the wall of the castle throughout each performance. The jewel in the crown of Edinburgh’s festival programme, the 2013 Tattoo was a particularly enjoyable experience that remains a must-see event on any festival calendar.

You can view an album of photos from the tattoo over on TartanFootprint.com by clicking here.


About Nadine Lee

Originally from New Zealand, Nadine is a documentary researcher now based in the north east of Scotland.

View all posts by Nadine Lee →

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