Monday, 23 July 2012

The Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The Edinburgh Military Tattoo, The Tattoo for short, is a series of military tattoos held in Edinburgh Castle every August with military bands from all over the world performing. It is part of the Edinburgh Festival, which is a set of festivals taking place in August.

The word “Tattoo” has nothing to do with body art, the drumbeat of a military band or the sound of a trumpet. It comes, from the Dutch “Doe den tap toe” which literally means “Close the tap” referring to a beer tap, and is better translated as “last orders” after British licensing laws which required ringing a bell ten minutes before closing time to allow customers to buy a final drink before the bar closed. This contrasts with Belgium where whoever rings the bell above the bar indicates they are willing to buy a drink for everyone in the place. Soldiers in the British Army first came across the term “Tap toe” when stationed in Flanders during the War of the Austrian Succession from 1740 to 1748. The British adopted the practice of playing the Taptoe signal each night to tell tavern owners to turn off the taps in their bar to ensure the soldiers returned to their billets at a reasonable hour. Later, when soldiers lived in barracks, the Tattoo referred to the last duty call of the day and to a ceremonial evening entertainment played by military bands and musicians.

An unofficial Tattoo in Edinburgh took place in Princes Street Gardens in 1949 followed by the first official tattoo in 1950 and the tattoo has grown almost every year since. Over 200,000 people a year watch it from the temporary stands on the castle esplanade (also used for concerts) and the time for their eraction has shrunk from two months to one. The Tattoo takes place every weekday evening and twice on Saturdays in August whatever the weather and the later Saturday performance includes a fireworks and a Son et lumière element projected onto the façade of the Castle. 

There are free samples of the Tattoo in Princes Street Gardens and in Glasgow. The Tattoo has also toured outside Britain, and is televised in 30 countries which means a further 100 million people see it on television.

The Tattoo itself is run for charitable causes but also contributes a lot to Edinburgh's economy. It has its own magazine and has a number of corporate sponsors. In its 60th Year it was renamed the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo to celebrate its longevity.

The first non British regiment to take part in the Tattoo came from the Netherlands in 1952 and by 2012 over 30 countries have taken part, including the Swiss Top Secret Drum Corps, a group of drummers with diverse day jobs. In 1972 a Norwegian contingent adopted a penguin from Edinburgh Zoo as a mascot. There is no truth in the rumour they taught it to ski. 

There is a different theme for each year and the military services take turns in “leading” the Tattoo but the highlight is the music of military pipe and drum bands from all over s the world. There are also mock battles and a series of events which may include stunt driving and exotic dancers (my preference). A pair of binoculars may be a good idea but check with the Tattoo office if they are allowed.

The Castle and hence the Tattoo is a single, normally short, bus ride from the Badjao Bed andBreakfast and not far from the Grassmarket, formerly the place where criminals were hung, which now has a number of traditional Scottish pubs including the ambiguously named “Last Drop” bar.

The Tattoo almost always sells out well in advance. From 2013 we are considering a package deal which includes tickets for the Tattoo. If there is enough interest we will proceed further with this. 

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