Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Festival

Military TattooThe Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has been a regular part of the amazing Edinburgh Festival since 1950, and continues to draw huge crowds of proud Scots, and enthusiastic visitors every single August. From comedians to classical music, Shakespeare to street performers, Edinburgh really does have something for everyone during the summer! But the Tattoo remains the most spectacular of the traditional entertainments provided, and it is this awesome display of military and traditional music we shall focus on today.

Military tattoos are not a uniquely Scottish event, in fact the word “Tattoo” in this sense is derived from the Dutch phrase “doe den tap toe”, meaning “turn the taps off”, commonly heard in military bars and pubs at the end of trading. The British military based in Flanders in the 1840s soon adopted the phrase in their own fashion, and the Corps of Drum or Pipes and Drums would play the “taps to” signal each night, to let local pub landlords know it was time to send the soldiers back to their lodgings. By the late 18th century modern style barracks had been introduced, and full military bands were common, and the “taps to” signal finally evolved into the Tattoo as we know it today – a ceremonial form of entertainment performed to indicate the end of the day.

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The main Edinburgh International Festival has taken place every year since 1947, though the Tattoo only became an official part of the ceremonies in 1950. This decision was precipitated by a small Tattoo played at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens, with a show titled “Something About a Soldier” during the 1949 Festival. It proved so popular that the following year saw the Tattoo go onto the official festival line-up, with a programme of eight items attracting an audience of around 6000 people seated on wooden benches in front of Edinburgh Castle. This humble beginning is of course a far cry from the amazing spectacle which takes place these days, with over a thousand performers from all corners of the globe, amazing fireworks displays, and a total audience of almost 220, 000!

Part of the charm and appeal of the Edinburgh Tattoo is of course the location; edinburgh military tattoo castleEdinburgh Castle has been a symbol of the city skyline for centuries and is part of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site, and the Tattoo takes place directly in front of its most striking aspect, on the Esplanade. The Castle is unusual among its peers as one of the only ancient castles to still have an active military garrison, albeit one used mostly for ceremonial and administrative purposes. In addition to supplying a useful and historically relevant staging area, Edinburgh Castle provides an amazing backdrop to this special event; one of the best loved traditions of the Edinburgh Tattoo features a flood lit lone piper playing a traditional Lament to the memory of fallen comrades from a spot high on the Castle battlements.

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The other most important aspect of the Tattoo is of course, the performers themselves! The Tattoo retains a strong martial aspect, attracting kilted Highland dancers and military bands from all over the UK and overseas eager to participate in the line-up. Bands from the Royal Air Force, British Army, Royal Marine and the Royal Navy make up the main service, interspersed with other performers such as Highland dancers and steel drum groups, and military bands are also present at the massing of the pipes and drums at the Tattoo’s climax, which is in itself a strongly military ritual which takes the same form every year. The end of each show will see the massed pipes and drums march back onto the Esplanade to join the military bands, at which point the National Fireworks Edinburgh Military Tattooplayed by a member of the Royal Marines or British Infantry. At this point, the aforementioned lone piper will play his poignant refrain, and the whole group of performers Anthem and Auld Lang Syne will be played. Then the flag will be lowered from the Castle as the “Sunset” or “Last Post” bugle call is will march off the esplanade and down the Royal Mile to a medley of popular Scottish songs.

This year’s performance is set to be one of the best ever – it is a Year of the Homecoming for Scotland, where we reflect on what our home means to us, and work to strengthen the bonds with the Scottish diaspora living globally, and the theme of the Tattoo this year is quite fittingly; Our “Home, Friends and Family”. Coming straight off the back of what looks to be a very successful showing for Scotland at the XX Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, during one of the best summer’s Scotland has seen for years, spirits are bound to be high for the whole of the festival period. So as we revel in these wonderful sights and sounds just a few short weeks from now, we encourage all of our friends and family across the world to set their eyes to Scotland once more and appreciate all the glory and talent on show at the 65th Edinburgh Military Tattoo! As always, we welcome your comments and input and look forward to hearing your tales of memorable Tattoo experiences gone by, or plans to visit this year!

Scotland’s Commonwealth Games

commonwealth gamesThis year Scotland is preparing to host the XX Commonwealth Games in Glasgow – the first time since 1986 that the Games have come to Scotland! As the opening ceremony draws closer, read on to find out more about this fantastic four-yearly sporting event between the prime athletes from all over the Commonwealth of Nations!

The Commonwealth Games as we know them today however, have only existed since 1978 – though they have existed in various forms since 1930 when a Canadian man, Melville Marks Robinson, organised the first British Empire Games to take place in Ontario. Back then the Games were much smaller than today, with participants from only 11 of the Commonwealth Nations – and ladies were only allowed to take part in the swimming events!

Following WWII, the British Empire began to break up and the Commonwealth of Nations was established with the understanding that all the member nations would now be recognised as free to govern themselves and treat one another as equals. This focus on equality has led to the Commonwealth of Nations (which still counts almost one third of the world’s population as members) working together to tackle issues such as poverty, racism, democracy, peace, health and human rights. The Games has acted as a way to bring all of these sometimes disparate nations together every few years and provide a source of fun and pride in our common bond!

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Nowadays of course, the event has grown and grown, and the XX Commonwealth Glasgow 2014 LogoGames are the biggest yet; in fact this year’s Games will be the largest multi-sport event ever held in Scotland! Teams from 71 nations will take part in 261 events in 17 sports to make up a truly inspiring and exciting week of athletic and sporting displays. For a small nation with (ahem) not exactly a sterling reputation in the world of sport, Scotland has always performed strongly – helped of course by our status as one of only six nations which have been part of the Games since its inception. With over 350 medals won in total, almost 100 of which were gold, Scotland is ranked as the seventh most successful country in the Games, in fact we’ve won medals at every single Games ever held! And of course we have some of the most dedicated and brilliant sportsmen to have made this happen! One Scottish competitor, Willie Wood, was the first participant ever to compete in seven Commonwealth Games, though the most successful sportsman was shooter Alister Allan, with a magnificent total of 3 gold, 3 silver and 4 bronze medals won. Others such as Chris Hoy, Susan Jackson and Steve Frew have also brought glory to their home nation and are now part of Team Scotland, acting as ambassadors and enthusiastic supporters of the new generation of hopeful athletes.

One of the most charming traditions of the Commonwealth Games is the Queen’s Baton Relay. This has taken place in the lead up to every game since 1958, and involves the Head of the Commonwealth (currently Queen Elizabeth II) writing a message to the people of the Commonwealth and sealing it inside a baton, which she then entrusts to the first of many runners. Each runner will hand off to the next as the baton travels from England to the host nation, where it finally arrives during the opening ceremony. The final runner then hands the baton back to Queen Elizabeth (or her representative should she not be in attendance), who retrieves and reads out her message to officially open the Games. Since 2006, the baton has travelled through every single participating nation before reaching its destination (before this only England and the host nation were included), and a new baton is designed for every Games. This year’s design is inspired by Scotland’s natural resources and industry and scientific prowess, featuring elm wood and traditional boat building techniques of construction alongside a cutting edge titanium lattice. Uniquely, the Queen’s hand written message is visible through the lattice, but unreadable due to being surrounded by LED lights, and the baton is locked using a two-part puzzle mechanism; solving the first puzzle ensures each nation is gifted with a granite gemstone souvenir, but the secret to the second part which allows access to the message will not be unveiled until the opening ceremony.

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Tartan Bow TieThe final runner of the Queen’s Baton Relay will of course be dressed in the official Team Scotland sportswear which centred on the colours blue, navy and white to echo the Scottish flag, with Saltire and lion rampant motifs throughout. In addition to these, the Team have parade uniforms which of course incorporate our beloved tartan fabric in a very unique and eye-catching modern design. Although this particular tartan is exclusive to Team Scotland members, the medal bearers and other non-sportsperson officials will wear The Official Glasgow 2014 tartan. This special and beautiful design was created by a 15 year old Scottish school pupil, Aamir Mehmood, to represent the national colours of Scotland and the multicultural nature of Scotland and the Commonwealth of Nations. Luckily for all of us, this tartan is available to the public via House of Edgar, one of Scotland’s oldest and most prestigious woollen mills, and can be made into a wide range of beautiful garments and accessories such as shawls, hats and – of course – Highland kilts!

So as Scotland gears up to cheer on our great athletes in these special Games, how will you show your support for your favourite team? We look forward to hearing comments from our friends and allies across the Commonwealth and in the spirit of the Games themselves wish all the teams the best of luck!

Scottish Art – The Most Popular Pieces

With such beautiful landscapes surrounding our every moment, it’s no surprise that Scotland has a long and rich history of creating amazing art. In today’s blog we are going to look at four pieces which we feel exemplify the history and skills of Scottish artists, so join us to find out more about the pieces inspired by this wonderful country, and where you can go to see them yourself!

Stirling torcsAs with most societies, the history of Scottish art goes all the way back to prehistoric times. Though we are not as lucky as some societies to have found many paintings from this era, we do have some wonderful examples of metal work dating from the Iron Age! Among the most famous of these are the Stirling torcs – a collection of intricate gold necklaces made by twisting the metal into spirals and other patterns. These are important not only from an aesthetic standpoint, but historically as well. Of the four pieces found, only the two ribbon style necklets are confirmed to be of a design commonly known in Scotland around this time. Another, broken, torc displays an intricate beaded effect to its surface, in a pattern only previously seen in jewellery from south eastern France, but the final torc is the most visually striking of all, with eight strands of gold wire woven together and terminating in intricately stylised discs, uniquely showing influences from both Mediterranean crafts of the Bronze Age, and more traditional Iron Age elements local to prehistoric Scotland. As jewellery, these torcs may be seen simply as mundane items, but of course gold has always been regarded as precious, and the roundhouse in which the torcs were found indicates they may have been left as an offering to the gods worshipped by Iron Age peoples, so these pieces are likely to represent the best and most beautiful of what this society had to offer. These are now held in collection by the National Museum of Scotland, and while they are not always on display, similar items can be seen year round at this great treasure trove of Scottish art and life.

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Moving forward through history and away from the artistic merit of “everydayRosslyn Chapel objects”, stone carving has also been a very important part of the culture of Scottish art for a long time, especially in the context of religious art. Pictish stones and Celtic crosses with intricate knot-work are two of the best known examples of carved stones in Scotland, along with Rosslyn Chapel. The carvings all over the interior of the chapel at Rosslyn are unbelievably detailed and extensive – even if you have visited before it is practically guaranteed that a return trip will provide a whole new selection of details to pore over. Many of the designs have clear Christian meanings, such as a Nativity scene with its flight of angels heralding Christ’s birth by playing bagpipes, or a Masonic influenced depiction of Satan bound upside down – but others seem to be influenced by earlier pagan legends, such as the Green Man carvings which can be found throughout the building. The Chapel is as mysterious as it is beautiful, with carvings of American plants previously presumed to be unknown in Scotland at the time of carving in the 1400s, and strange box-like structures which have recently been posited to be a method of musical notation there is a wealth of secret knowledge here waiting to be discovered.

the penny weddingThe National Gallery of Scotland too is a wonderful place to visit to soak up some culture, with stunning art from all over the world. But it too has some particular Scottish treasures of course, among them The Penny Wedding, a painting by Alexander Carse dating from the early 1800s. This large scale painting shows a typical Scottish wedding of this time, and the artist has taken a great deal of pleasure in showing off some of the Scottish customs and everyday life at this time, such as the guests passing round a hat to collect money for the newlyweds, shepherds removing their tartan bonnets to say Grace, and exuberant country dancers in the centre of the frame. This kind of social genre of painting has provided us with a wonderful snapshot into the events of daily life in Scotland around this time of huge upheaval and change, as the rural population began to move around and city living became far more common.

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Finally, let’s bring ourselves right up toVettriano, Singing Butler the present with a relatively new, but already much admired contemporary artist; Jack Vettriano. Especially beloved to us as he is after all a local lad from just up the road in Methil, Fife, Vettriano has a natural and modern style which has proven to resonate deeply with many people, even those not usually interested in art. The Art Gallery and Museum in Kirkcaldy is lucky enough to have two paintings by this modern master; a portrait of an elegant lady and a self-portrait of the artist himself. Vettriano’s early works were in fact inspired by the contents of this gallery, as it was among the only access he had to fine art as a self-taught young artist, so it is especially interesting to compare his pieces to the art surrounding it! He is just one of many contemporary artists living and working in Scotland however, and works by many others can be seen at the National Gallery, along with another Vettriano self-portrait from a later stage in his career.

We hope you have found this blog interesting, and this little taster of Scottish art has whetted your appetite to go out there and find more beautiful paintings, sculptures, carvings and more to love and appreciate! Of course we could not cover everything in such a short post, so we look forward to reading your comments about your own favourite pieces and where to find them!