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Issue 4 - Festive season

Scotland Magazine Issue 4
September 2002


This article is 16 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Festive season

I was at an American-Scottish gathering in Atlanta, Georgia, when an attractive young lady wearing a skirt, waistcoat and bonnet in the Buchanan tartan approached me and asked if I could tell her about the Scottish dancing and piping events at the Edinburgh Festival.

I hesitated. “The Edinburgh Festival is a multi-cultural event showcasing international opera, dance and theatre,” I replied rather pompously.

She looked unimpressed. “Why would I want to go to Scotland for that when I can go to Philadelphia or Chicago?” she said. “In that case, what you would probably want to see is the Edinburgh Tattoo,” I told her. “It is one of the most amazing and colourful outdoor musical spectacles in the world. There are massed pipe bands and it celebrates the best of Scotland.”

“That sounds more like it,” she said, and later on, after she had been to it, she wrote to say that the Edinburgh Tattoo had been the most unforgettable night of her life. “The other Festival shows were not that bad either,” she added. Which goes some way towards explaining why the Edinburgh Tattoo in its 52nd year has once again been a sell-out. Taking place on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, it annually packs in an audience of 217,000, and even if it’s pouring with rain, the show goes on regardless.

Moreover, the Tattoo has become genuinely international. In March 2000, the producer, production team and 300 musicians were given permission by the UK Ministry of Defence to fly to Wellington, New Zealand. Musicians from the Royal Marines, The Scots Guards, and Highland and Lowland bands took part, and the cast, which included hundreds of New Zealand army musicians and performers from the South Seas, spent just four days in rehearsal before performing in front of an audience of 80,000 in the Westpac Trust Stadium on Wellington’s quayside against a full-sized replica backdrop of Edinburgh Castle. Such was the response afterwards that the Tattoo team are currently looking at a number of overseas opportunities to promote the UK for the future.

But it should also be remembered that in Scotland, since 1950, the Edinburgh Tattoo and the Edinburgh Festival have been
synonymous. Four years earlier it had taken great courage for Edinburgh’s city fathers to invest in a festival of music, drama, and the arts. Remember that here was a strongly Protestant city situated on the north-east coast of an island located off the north-west coast of a devastated European continent.

Edinburgh’s first large-scale Tattoo, held during the fourth Festival to mark the half-way point of the twentieth century, was a recognition that the investment had paid off. The Edinburgh Festival was a winner, and like the Tattoo it has moved from strength to strength ever since.

For a full, heady month, from 3rd August to 1st September this year, Scotland’s capital now hosts no less than five other major festivals running concurrently with the official programme and the Tattoo – The Fringe, Film, Jazz, Television, and Book Festivals.

Some say it is all far too much. But it works, being spoiled for choice and left wanting more.

To provide just a taste of the cosmopolitan choice on offer this year, there is Wagner’s Parsifal in a co-production with the Salzburg Easter Festival. Other star turns include the Vienna Burgtheatre’s interpretation of Schiller’s Marie Stuart, the
Canadian Opera Company, the Royal Ballet of Flanders, performances of Indian Classical dance, and the veteran Scottish comedian Johnnie Beattie who is recounting his experiences on the Scottish stage.

Luminaries at the Book Festival include Harold Pinter, Antonia Fraser, Edna O’Brian, Seamus Heaney, Edward Said and Germaine Greer. The Film Festival is hosting premiers of Tadpole with Sigourney Weaver, Rabbit-Proof Fence with Kenneth Branagh and Changing Lanes starring Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck. Americans Gregg Proops, Rich Hall and Scott Capurro and Australian Bob Downe are among the comedy names to be found on the Fringe And finally, there is the dazzling climax of the closing night fireworks display from the battlements of Edinburgh Castle, with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra performing Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition from below in Princes Street Gardens. An audience of as many as 300,000 will watch this performance from vantage points all over the city.

With a choice of over 200 top-class hotels, numerous guest houses and countless eateries catering for all kinds of gourmet tastes, Scotland’s capital has come a remarkably long way from when the Festival began in the dour days of over half a century ago. Then, there was only one licensed restaurant which closed at 10pm. And it did not open at all on Sundays.