August 6, 2016
“And who here is from . . . . the United States?”
“Woop woop woop!” I yell, a huge grin on my face.
It’s just before showtime at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and I can hardly sit still.
Attending the Tattoo been on my bucket list for years, ever since I saw it on TV a few years ago.
I’ve got great seats: I’m at the end of one of the long sides of the stadium, just where it curves around to the super-expensive seats that face the entire length of the parade ground.
As the master of ceremonies continues a roll call of home countries (Australia, Germany, France, South Africa, India), I chat with the couple on my left. They’re an older couple who live a couple hours outside Edinburgh. He’s wanted to attend the Tattoo for years, and their son bought them tickets and is putting them up here in Edinburgh for the weekend.
As we chat, the stadium is steadily filling with people. When I first came in, it seemed unbelievable that the mass of bodies packed into the narrow streets would ever be able to fill all these seats.
And yet, just a few minutes before show time, the stadium is nearly full. It’s like watching sand run slowly into an hourglass, sure and steady.
Just before show time, the seats on my right are filled with a mother and her young daughter (maybe 6 or 7?) Her husband and younger daughter are seated in the row below us. After the show I discover that they’re from Baltimore, and we chat a bit about house-sitting as we wait for the rows in front of us to file down the stairs.
The announcer finishes his pre-show chatter by asking who in the audience is from Scotland, and a huge cheer fills the parade ground. It’s show time!
From the moment the first kilted bagpiper steps onto the parade ground, I’m lost in a world of music, pomp, and pageantry.
And kilts. So. Many. Kilts.
“The Black Bear,” “The Campbells are Coming,” and “Amazing Grace” by the Massed Pipes and Drums
The Massed Pipes and Drums includes:
- The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
- The Royal Dragoon Guards
- 19th Regiment Royal Artillery, the Scottish Gunners
- 1st Battalion Scots Guard
- The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion
- The Royal Regiment of Scotland
- 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment
- Scottish Universities Officer Training Corps
- Vancouver Police
- Scots College
- Pipers Trail
Each unit wears their full military dress uniform. When they pass through each other, the parade ground becomes a riot of color.
“The Rowan Tree” by the Massed Pipes and Drums
Next come the Tattoo Highland Dancers, accompanied by The Band of His Majesty the King’s Guard of Norway and Hjaltibonhoga – The Shetland Fiddlers.
Auditions are held every year to be part of the tattoo dance corps, and this year the dancers are from Scotland, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States.
From the highlands of Scotland, we’re whisked away to the mountains of Nepal. Founded in WWI, a small number of the Nepal Army Band’s 314 members have traveled all the way to Scotland to participate in this year’s tattoo.
Their inclusion in this year’s event is to “celebrate Nepal’s proud history and also pay tribute to the conquering of Mount Everest, the achievement of Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepalese mountaineer Tenzing Norgay Sherpa. This remarkable feat will always be inextricably linked to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, as news of their success reached the United Kingdom on the 3rd day of June 1952, the day of Her Majesty the Queen’s Coronation.” (from the Official Programme)
As the Nepal Army Band exits to enthusiastic applause, the Tattoo Highland Dancers make a second appearance:
Their set goes on for several minutes, a beautiful coordinated dance that makes me want to get up and join them.
To my delight, the next group is the US Army Europe Band and Chorus! With a set that includes “Sing, Sing, Sing,” “All Shook Up,” and “9 to 5,” the whole audience is grooving in their seats.
As I clap along with the singers, it suddenly strikes me that Americans are definitely a different type of social creature than your average European. Why that observation hits me just at this particular moment I’m not sure. It stays with me through their set, though.
After the Americans we’re back to more traditional military music. The Royal Regiment of Scotland and Hjaltibonhoga – The Shetland Fiddlers follow the Lochiel Marching Drill Team onto the parade ground.
All the way from New Zealand, the Lochiel gals are something else. Their coordination and timing are the very model of military precision. According to the program, they’ve won the New Zealand championship 36 times!
We must have entered the military drill section of the tattoo, because the next group onto the parade ground are the Jordan Armed Forces, composed of the Jordanian Armed Forces Band, the Honour Guard’s Silent Drill Team, and the Circassian Guard of Honour.
They’re an impressive group, especially when they perform several complicated drill patterns.
What strikes me most, though, is that they seem very serious. Most of the other groups have had an element of performance to their presentation; these Jordanian soldiers make me feel as if I’m watching a military inspection just before a battle.
I do love their horses, though. They, at least, seem to be enjoying all the fuss and attention of getting dressed up.
The New Zealand Army and His Majesty The King’s Guard of Norway are the last two guest ensembles before the grand finale.
Apparently I was too busy clapping along to the New Zealand Army Band’s rendition of “You Can’t Stop the Beat” and “500 Miles” to take any pictures or videos. Sorry!
I don’t have any pictures from the Norwegian group or the Massed Military Bands, either, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say they were fabulous.
I do pick up my camera in time to capture the Royal Salute. This involves members of the massed military bands forming a unit in the center of the parade ground while a special carriage is driven in from one of the entrances.
The carriage represents Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who celebrated her 90th birthday this year but is not in attendance this evening.
The empty carriage makes a complete circuit of the parade ground while members of The Bands of the Household Cavalry, The Royal Artillery, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, The Rifles, Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Scotland, the 1st Battalion Scots Guards, the Jordan Armed Forces, Nepal Army, New Zealand Army, His Majesty the King’s Guard of Norway, and the United States Army Europe Band and Chorus play a tribute to the United Kingdom’s reigning monarch.
Once the carriage has exited the parade grounds, it’s time for the grand finale. The remaining members of the Massed Military Bands and Massed Pipes and Drums join the carriage salute ensemble
“Coming Home” by the Massed Military Bands and Massed Pipes and Drums
The parade ground slowly fills with all the performers from tonight’s show
Until the parade ground is filled with over 1200 musicians from all around the world.
The finale goes on for a long time, a delightful cascade of drums, pipes, and brass that fills the entire stadium. We’re cheering and clapping, and when we’re invited to sing along with Auld Lang Syne, I feel such a connection with the other people in the stadium.
The finale ends with a lone bagpiper high up on the castle ramparts. He stands straight and tall in the dusk, the opening notes of “Sleep Dearie Sleep” hanging in the air. There is nothing like hearing the sound of a bagpipe played in the open skies of Scotland.
Once the finale is over, the performers have to march themselves off the parade ground before we can be let out of our seats. They do so in style, of course, weaving in and amongst each other as they have been doing all evening.
And of course, what better song to end on than “Scotland the Brave.”
It’s just after 10:00 pm when the last performer crosses the bridge back into Edinburgh Castle. I’m full to the brim of everything I’ve seen and heard in the last 2.5 hours. I can’t wait to watch it all again with Stuart and Amanda!
Even though I have tickets for the 10:30 pm show, I still have to leave the stadium and come back. Already there’s a huge queue of people, and I’m really glad I had the foresight to give Stuart and Amanda their tickets at lunch.
Through pure luck, I happen to catch up to them in line. The rain that’s been threatening all day arrives along with strong winds that rattle the backs of the bleachers during the entire second performance.
Luckily for me, we’re on the south side of the stadium, which means that the shell at our back largely protects us from the chill wind and misty rain that’s starting to blow in from the south.
Our seats for the evening show are right next to the castle, which is at the other end of the parade grounds from my earlier seats. These seats have some distinct advantages: I get a first look at the groups as they enter and exit the grounds. The acoustics are also *much* better back here.
I don’t take very many pictures during the night show. Partly because full night has fallen, and the few pictures I do take don’t turn out very well. I’m also at the opposite end of the parade grounds from the fancy expensive boxes, so most of the performers are turned away from me.
Mostly, though, I don’t take any pictures because I simply want to sit back and enjoy the performances this second time around.
There are some changes for this second performance. For one thing, His Majesty King Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is in attendance. He’s driven onto the parade ground in a small cavalcade of black shiny cars, and we all stand as Jordan’s National Anthem is played. It is the first time I can remember standing to acknowledge a visiting head of state. I like the feeling of giving this man the respect that is due him.
There’s also a new act in tonight’s show: The Imps Motorcycle Team accompanied by The Band of the Rifles. It’s too dark and the motorcycles too fast to get any good pictures, but suffice to say these kids are amazing! Not only are they doing a Star Wars set, but their white stunt motorcycles and red tunics remind me strongly of Stormtroopers.
They do incredible stunts, including shooting fireworks out the back of their bikes and building a moving pyramid!
Other changes in the evening show include some incredible projects onto the wall of the castle:
And a touching trumpet salute while red poppies fall gently down the castle walls.
The wind is so strong they have to cancel the fireworks show. In fact, when the lone piper climbs onto the castle battlement to play the final hymn, I can’t imagine how he’s even managing to stand upright.
Like the earlier show, the tattoo runs long and it’s after 1:30 am as I hear “Scotland the Brave” for a second and final time on this glorious evening.
I’m cold and stiff from sitting for three hours, but I’ve never been happier. Seeing the tattoo back to back was an inspired idea, even though everyone else thought I was crazy.
I may be crazy, but to have two opportunities to see and hear and experience those bagpipes . . . well, let’s just say that I find myself humming “Scotland the Brave” often over the next few days. And every time I do, I can’t help but smile.
Up next: A house-sit in Cork, Ireland’s hippy city