Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2012
Edinburgh Tattoo showcases Highland dancing, drill teams and military bands
This article is from 2012.
The 2012 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo will be a riotous celebration of monarchy and creativity. Kirstyn Smith speaks to those behind this year’s energetic and innovative displays
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, it seems, often finds itself on the receiving end of a reputation that reels (Highland or otherwise) from one misguided opinion to the other. Contrary to stereotype, the massive spectacle is not just for clans of yellow-ponchoed American tourists.
Nor do Tattoo organisers churn out the same twee celebrations of Scottish culture by rote year after year. Indeed, a highlight from 2011’s spectacle, Fanfarekorps Koninklijke Landmacht Bereden Wapens (that’s the Royal Netherlands Army Mounted Regiments to you and me) got on their bikes, quite literally, to perform stirring brass tunes while maintaining a sound knowledge of cycling proficiency. Proof that there’s innovation, energy and life in the old Tattoo yet.
‘If I had lots of people running about with nothing on and issuing expletives in a very artful way, it would not be described as twee,’ reflects producer Brigadier David Allfrey. ‘If it’s good family viewing, then I might be accused of that, and I think that’s the balance to be struck.’
This year, the Tattoo has two major themes. ‘One is a celebration of Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee; the second is celebrating the Year of Creative Scotland,’ says Allfrey. ‘Much of it is open to quite a lot of interpretation and there is scope to be creative. There are one or two quirky little pieces which will provide people with pageantry, colour, music and excitement.’
Those with a similar appetite for deep-rooted traditions mixed with tasty new talents will find sustenance in a number of specially-commissioned artistic pieces which bring to light three staples of Scotland’s creative industries: tweed, whisky and heavy engineering. The man behind the Tattoo’s Highland Dancers, Billy Forsyth, has created an innovative show paying homage to the production and history of the water of life. However, there is another beloved tradition that never fails to keep him and his stalwart ensemble of Highland Dancers on their toes: Scottish weather.
‘When you see it on television it all looks so easy,’ Forsyth notes. ‘But the dancers are out on the Esplanade in the pouring rain and because it’s on a slope, it’s a particularly awkward performance space. We’ve anything from 70 to 100 dancers who find that when they start, they’re in one position, but by the end they’re in a totally different place.’
Despite the propensity for jigs and reels resulting in heads over heels, Forsyth has found that the Tattoo’s reputation as a rollicking night out can show its face in places far from home. ‘Many years ago I was asked to act as Chieftain for one of Australia’s very large Highland Games. When the organiser introduced me, it wasn’t until he said, “he’s also the Highland Dancer from the Edinburgh Military Tattoo”, that the whole audience switched on.’
This fondness and recognition from across the globe manifests itself in the screeds of international military bands and display teams heading Edinburghwards each summer. Among those assembled on the Castle Esplanade are the King’s Guard Drill Team from Norway while pipes and drums from Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia provide a unique international take on Scottish culture.
Representing the southern hemisphere for the 24th year are Melbourne’s Rats of Tobruk Memorial Pipes & Drums. Their Drum Major Kathleen Matthies is looking forward to returning to Scotland (she was born in Fife and raised in Oz), but not without a warning: if you’re ever tempted to accept a dare from some Royal Marines, you’d better be prepared to make good.
‘I got talking to a couple of men in the Sergeants’ Mess who advised they were instructors for the abseiling team. They told me they had a group of Kings Squad Royal Marines that they were taking and that I had to abseil too. I thought they were joking, but they told me that it had all been cleared for me to go the following morning at 7.30am.’
Despite dodgy headgear – ‘an embossed tin hat: such a fashion statement’ – and the worry that this endeavour could result in the Drum Major’s final Tattoo, there are some challenges you just don’t chicken out of: abseiling down Edinburgh Castle is clearly one of them. ‘I ended up going down the wall four times and lived to tell the tale,’ recalls Matthies. ‘Since then I’ve climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge and am not as afraid of heights as I was before going over the edge of the Castle wall.’
If you’re unsure what Health and Safety would have to say about the risks involved at the Tattoo, rest assured all you have to do is turn up and enjoy. And with an enormous cast of musicians, singers, dancers and display units pushing creative boundaries and fully primed to blow your night away, doing so won’t be too hard. Just make sure to steer clear of those pesky marines.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Castle, 0131 225 1188, 3–25 Aug, 9pm (Mon–Fri), 7.30pm & 10.30pm (Sat), £23–£59.