The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an annual series of Military tattoos performed by British Armed Forces, Commonwealth and International military bands and display teams in the Scottish capital Edinburgh. The event takes place annually throughout August, as part of the wider Edinburgh Festival (a collective name for many independent festivals and events in Edinburgh in August).
The word “Tattoo” is derived from “Doe den tap toe”, or just “tap toe” (“toe” is pronounced “too”), the Dutch for “Last orders”. Translated literally, it means: “put the tap to”, or “close or turn off the tap”. The term “Tap-toe” was first encountered by the British Army when stationed in Flanders during the War of the Austrian Succession.
The British adopted the practice and it became a signal, played by a regiment’s Corps of Drums or Pipes and Drums each night to tavern owners to turn off the taps of their ale kegs so that the soldiers would retire to their billeted lodgings at a reasonable hour. With the establishment of modern barracks and full Military bands later in the 18th century, the term Tattoo was used to describe not only the last duty call of the day, but also a ceremonial form of evening entertainment performed by Military musicians.
Although the first Tattoo in Edinburgh, entitled “Something About a Soldier”, took place at the Ross Bandstand at Princes Street Gardens in 1949, the first official Edinburgh Military Tattoo began in 1950 with just eight items in the programme. It drew some 6000 spectators seated in simple bench and scaffold structures around the north, south and east sides of the Edinburgh Castle esplanade. In 1952, the capacity of the stands was increased to accommodate a nightly audience of 7700, allowing 160,000 to watch live performances each year.
In the glowering twilight, Edinburgh Castle slumbers, resting, waiting for nightfall and for the footlights that will transform it into a dazzling stage set for the world’s most spectacular show. Down Castlehill, along the Lawnmarket, around the cathedral church of St Giles, through the closes of the Royal Mile and the narrow streets whose setts ring with history, people gather in the dusk of a late summer evening.
Climbing the final rise towards the Castle Esplanade, walking companionably together, eager old hands who come every year but never lose the thrill of a Tattoo ahead, and new folk, many on holiday from other proud nations a world away (like us), who are about to witness the show they will never forget…
We settle into our seats, the fresh clear air exhilarating, the sky above the Castle deepening first to heather-colours of lilac and purple before darkness slips down and the floodlit castle draws all eyes.
The commentator – the Voice of the Castle – brings the audience together, cheering individually for their countries but united in an international fraternity.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is one of the world’s most spectacular shows. The breathtaking performances of the Massed Pipes and Drums, the poignant Lone Piper, the iconic backdrop of Edinburgh Castle and the stunning spectacle of international music, ceremony, entertainment and theatre.
2010 marked the Diamond Jubilee Year of Edinburgh’s celebrated Royal Military Tattoo which takes place over the period 6-28 August with performances on Monday to Friday at 9.00pm and on Saturday at 7.30pm and 10.30pm. We were lucky to be part of the audience this year and luckier since the BBC was shooting it all the night we attended.
A hush falls and darkness deepens, the great oak gates of the Castle sweep open and the swell of the pipes and drums cracks through the night sky. As the massed bands march out in their hundreds across the drawbridge, flanked by effigies of William Wallace and Robert The Bruce, emotions run high: this matchless spectacle unfailingly enthrals, symbolising the Scotland that everyone holds dear in their heart.
Against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, the world’s most spectacular Tattoo hosts a celebration of talent from four continents including pipers, gymnasts, singers, dancers and an amazing motorcycle display team. The emphasis is again very much on music with the event that delights an international crowd with its rich variety.
The exciting programme included probably its two most popular items – the music of the Massed Pipes and Drums and that of the Massed Military Bands. Among the many bands that took part were those of South African Irish Regiment along with the South Australian Pipes and Drums and the prestigious Military Band of the Coldstream Guards.
The Citadel Band from Charleston, South Carolina, United States presented an inspiring musical display while the Imps Motorcycle Display Team from London’s Docklands – celebrating their 40th anniversary – displayed a thrilling daredevil of motorcycle prowess performed at breathtaking speed. Antipodean attractions were also on parade in the form of a military contingent from New Zealand, an Army band renowned for their talent, diversity and humour. During the parade, they broke out into a dance which very much relaxed the audience.
And above all else the awesome presence of the Castle, great flaring torches lighting its venerable walls and creating mysterious shadow plays on the honey coloured stone.
Here’s the link to the event’s highlights.
From its early days, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has been an international favourite. Performers from over 40 countries have presented here, and around 35 per cent of the 217,000 audience each year are from overseas. In addition, the Tattoo has been televised in 30 countries. An annual television audience of 100 million watches the coverage worldwide. The international flavour of the Tattoo has been deliberately developed as a key element in its capacity to entertain a huge, cosmopolitan audience. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is regarded as the most popular event in Edinburgh’s summer festival.
The Tattoo Fact File