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Issue 55 - A Diamond Event

Scotland Magazine Issue 55
February 2011

 

This article is 6 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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A Diamond Event

Our man heads for one of Edinburgh's most famous events

As the leaden clouds descend, and the crowds snake beneath Edinburgh Castle, the repetitive call of ‘no umbrellas’ falls on deaf ears. For many of those ears, and most of those wise enough to hoist umbrellas, are visitors from outside Scotland (65,000 of the 217,000 audience each year are from overseas), and do not understand the request as rain requires an umbrella.

However, health and safety have established that 10,000 umbrellas and 20,000 eyes are not happy bedfellows.

The fortress of Edinburgh Castle rests high above us on an extinct volcano, and is setting to the stone figures of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, standing as witness to the Castle’s troubled history.

The venerated Saint Margaret of Scotland died here in 1093 and her son, King David I built a formidable royal castle on the rock in 1130, including the chapel dedicated to Queen Margaret that still stands.

In 1566 Mary Queen of Scots gave birth in the Castle to her only child, the future King James VI of Scotland and I of England. And in 1818, Sir Walter Scott searched the Castle for the Honours of Scotland which had been stored away since the Union of the Crowns in 1707. During World War Two, the Honours were buried in David’s Tower, in case of German invasion. Today, the Castle still houses the Honours of Scotland and Stone of Destiny, the coronation stone of Scottish, English and British monarchs.

Links with the military, the heart of the Tattoo, are ever present. The Castle vaults served as a prison during several conflicts, including the American War of Independence and the Napoleonic Wars, and during the two world wars.

A military garrison until the 1920s, the Castle remains the headquarters of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Indeed, the post of Governor of the Castle is now held by the General Officer Commanding the Army in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Northern England.

However, music was the foundation stone of the Tattoo, with the tunes of freedom and glory, and suffering and loss, played against the backdrop of the Castle. Pipers have led Scottish soldiers to war since they fought with King Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, and they are still soldiers first and foremost today. Indeed the term ‘tattoo’ takes its name from the cry of innkeepers in Belgium and the Netherlands over 300 years ago. They ordered “Doe den tap toe” (turn off the taps) when the fifes and drums of the local regiment marched through the streets signalling the soldiers to return to barracks.

So already damp, and supported by the essential seat cushion, we find our seats, set high above the floodlit Esplanade and in front of the stunning Castle entrance itself. An array of bright colours, reds, yellows, blues and greens, play audience to the impending cascade of rain. As the first band marches out from the Castle gates the heavens open, and the start of one of the very wettest of nights begins. However, neither rain nor thunder can dampen the enthusiasm of the audience as the spectacle rallies with bands from New Zealand and Canada, Poland and Jordan.

The performance opens with the heart-stopping and dramatic sound of the Massed Pipes & Drums, featuring an enormous troupe, 12 pipe bands in all, embracing the very best pipe bands from across the globe. Making their long-awaited Tattoo debut is the impressive Representative Band of the Border Guard of the Republic of Poland, instantly recognisable by their green capes, round hats and eagle feather who put on their dynamic display of music and movement.

The Citadel Regimental Band and Pipes from Charleston in South Carolina turns the event in to a dance routine, being able to play and skip at the same time. Lights sprinkle across the instruments and dazzling uniforms, giving the most magical image to the whole parade ground. And the magic is heightened by the extraordinary acoustics that such an outdoor arena provides.

Distinguished by the smartness of their turnout as well as their standard of drill, The Band of The Royal Gurkha Regiment make an electrifying presentation featuring flawless marching at an incredible 140 paces per minute followed by a colourful display of traditional dance from the 100-strong dance troupe from the Tattoo’s Kinloch Anderson Highland Dancers with a young group from New Zealand.

And just as one’s senses feel there can be no more contrast, 77 armed forces musicians from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, accompanied by a 24-strong Drill Team, a Mounted Honour Guard, astride eigth military horses, and its six member Circassian Guard of Honour, show off their skills with an exhilarating Middle Eastern display. New Zealand’s big brass band, The New Zealand Army Band, take to the arena with its world-class instrumentalists, followed by one of the highlights, the Military Bands of the Grenadier and Coldstream Guards.

Yet the Tattoo is not just about rousing bands and stunning synchronised marching. We are also amazed by daredevil motorcycling from the amazing 38-strong Imps Motorcycle Display Team. Sporting immaculate red tunics combined with highly charged, near-clashing driving, the Imps mesmerised us with their breathtaking skill and precision, and this year was also an anniversary for them, their 40th.

The thought that never escapes one’s mind, and brings such special emotion to the whole event, is that the setting and format have not changed in generations and that pipers have marched from Edinburgh Castle for hundreds of years – and we are now a part of it.

Since the first Tattoo in 1952 more than 40,000 performers from 46 countries have thrilled audiences. Whether musicians or dancers, precision drill teams or cultural dance troupes, comradeship is at the heart of the Tattoo. As we scatter down The Royal Mile, laughing into the sheet rain, there is a feeling of shared enjoyment watching something as magnificent as the Tattoo in spite of the weather. It truly is one of the world’s greatest human spectacles.
 
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  • Issue : 55
  • Page : 56
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