The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

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!