8 elements that create an amazing Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Set against the backdrop of Edinburgh’s imposing castle, The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo - returning in 2023 [4-26 August] with its show 'Stories' - is one of the most iconic events in the Edinburgh festivals calendar. Bringing together audiences from across the globe, the Tattoo celebrates the skills and talents of military bands and display teams from across the globe. There are few such moving festival moments, a fact to which any of the over 220,000 people who experience it live in any normal year can attest – not to mention the further 100 million who watch television broadcasts of the event! So what makes it so special.
The Unique Setting
It’s not often that you get a chance to sit in a specially built arena with a castle as your backdrop. But that’s what makes the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo unique. Edinburgh Castle is one of the oldest fortified places in Europe, and magically sits on a hilltop overlooking Scotland’s capital city. With a long rich history as a royal residence, military garrison, prison and fortress, it is alive with many exciting tales. When you walk up Castle Hill to get to your seats, you will walk in the footsteps of soldiers, kings and queens – and even the odd pirate or two. Though parts of the Castle remain in military use, the castle is now a world-famous visitor attraction and an iconic part of the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site……while also being the stunning backdrop for The Tattoo.
The Legendary Tradition
Did you ever wonder where the term ‘Tattoo’ comes from? Well, it derives from a 17th-century Dutch phrase doe den tap toe ("close the tap"), a signal to tavern owners each night, played by regimental drummers, to turn off the taps of their ale kegs so that the soldiers would go back to their lodgings. With the establishment of modern barracks and full military bands later in the 18th century, the term "tattoo" was used to describe the last duty call of the day, as well as a ceremonial form of evening entertainment especially amongst Scottish regiments. The first public military tattoo in Edinburgh was entitled "Something About a Soldier" and took place in 1949 at the Ross Bandstand in the Princes Street Gardens and the first official Edinburgh Military Tattoo, with eight items in the programme, was the held in 1950 with 6,000 spectators seated in simple bench and scaffold structures around the Castle esplanade.
The Massed Pipes & Drums
There are surely only a few worldwide events that can boast of such a spectacular scene as the Massed Pipes and Drums marching out through the gates of Edinburgh Castle onto the Esplanade for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. At every show, the Massed Pipes and Drums – several hundred strong – march in traditional uniform and bellow out their best tunes on the bagpipes and drums. Each member moves with impeccable discipline, precision and choreographic prowess, creating a captivating spectacle that’s bound to impress and not to be missed! The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Pipes and Drum, Dancers and Fiddlers, have been developed to promote traditional Scottish art forms, ensuring that these cultural identities are shared internationally.
The International Flavour
Although UK and Scottish acts lie at the heart of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, it would not be the same extraordinary spectacle without the international performers that form part of a cast of more than 1,200 performers from all points of the compass that grace the Castle esplanade every August. In 1952 The Tattoo introduced the first overseas performers: The Pipes and Drums of the 1st Canadian Highland Battalion, La Fanfare à Cheval de La Garde Republicaine de Paris and The Koninklijke Militaire Kapel (Royal Netherlands Grenadiers) all performed. The 2022 programme included Banda Monumental de Mexico, the New Zealand Army Band, the United States Air Force Honor Guard Drill team and firm Tattoo favourites the Top Secret Drum Corps from Basel, Switzerland. Every year, there’s an amazing array of talented musicians from across the globe.
The Lone Piper
The Lone Piper has a significant role during the August shows. An iconic silhouette from the top of Edinburgh Castle, they mark the close of festivities and a moment to remember those that came before us. For centuries pipers and drummers have held an important role within the military. Marking calls to action throughout the day, performing at celebrations and keeping morale up during times of conflict. In addition to their daily soldiering duties, a Lone Piper will play their pipes to signify routine commands. Each call has a different tune, that the Battalion will recognise and understand. At the Tattoo, The Lone Piper is a key part of the performance marking a poignant moment of reflection and signifying the end of the night. In addition to learning music by heart, the piper must have a stomach for heights as they stand hundreds of feet above the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade. Before the times of health and safety the role included true jeopardy with pipers standing on a small platform next to a sheer drop. Nowadays, the Lone Piper is securely harnessed to a custom-built platform ensuring their safety at all times.
The Stunning Projections
From first exploring the medium of large format projections in 2005, the recent state-of-the-art video projection systems now allow the Tattoo to reach new heights in brightness, visibility and creativity – underlining the commitment to bringing the highest production values to the whole Tattoo experience. With the move to video and the greater intensity, the latitude for content has greatly increased. For New Zealand's Lochiel Marching Drill Team the city landmark became Mordor – complete with flowing rivers of lava, fire-breathing dragons, smouldering volcanoes and cracking buildings. For a Battle of Jutland theme, the video complement included 3D battle cruisers and the castle morphed into the engine room of a Dreadnaught battleship. In complete contrast, the US Army Band Europe played against a castle covered in animated stars and stripes and musical notes. The spectacular large-format projections that now grace Edinburgh Castle create a dramatic and dynamic backdrop for the Tattoo each year.
The Fireworks Finale
No festival extravaganza would be complete without a fireworks finale, and the Tattoo is no different. But there is actually a big difference because the Tattoo holds a display every night to mark the end of the performance, with the entire cast gathering on the esplanade. For those at the event, this is one of those picture-perfect moments with the fireworks framing the iconic Edinburgh Castle. If you’re not at the Tattoo you can still enjoy the fireworks from nearly anywhere in the city, with most vantage points taken up by those locals who know the best places and the exact times [roughly 90 minutes after the start of each show].
The Entire Experience
The Tattoo is a hugely popular, near month-long theatrical extravaganza showcasing an exciting and eclectic mix of military pageantry, music, dance, technical wizardry and special effects. So what do people say when we ask them the question – what makes the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo so special?
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