Why the Tattoo has a ‘pipe’ line to success
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is more than a show, it’s a celebration of history and Scottish culture
WHEN a hardened soldier from Scotland’s famously ferocious Black Watch regiment starts talking evocatively about his tartan on the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle, you pay attention.
Even with the wind and rain of a Scottish summer whipping about your ears under a night sky — or maybe because of it.
Retired Major Stevie Small speaks with military efficiency, yet unexpected romance, when he talks about his life’s quest to follow his “golden trail”, as he calls it, a four-decade-long journey from Aberdeen south to Edinburgh Castle to play the bagpipes with the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, renamed the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in 2010.
Small’s military career began when a Black Watch soldier and World War II veteran encouraged him to take up the bagpipes as a lad.
Inspired by the older man, Small followed in his mentor’s footsteps after high school, enlisting in the Black Watch, an infantry unit born from the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion that made English soldiers of Scottish Highland clansmen.
“The story … is everybody’s desire,” Small said, his pride barely contained as he spoke of a Scottish institution.
“So my trail took me through my military career … the trail is represented by the gold thread that runs through this tartan,” he continued, pointing at his immaculate blue checked waistcoat, the tartan of the Tattoo’s own Pipers’ Trail division, which is jauntier than the drab dark green and black check of the Black Watch. “We have the white and the blue of the Scottish Saltire (Scotland’s flag), you have the purple of the Scottish thistle and you have the golden thread which links us all together.”
In October, Small’s “golden trail” il” will ill b bring i hi him to A Australia li as production manager of the Tattoo’s fourth — and latest — Australian tour.
The Tattoo’s numbers will swell during the Sydney season from 1200 musicians and dancers to 1550.
That a production celebrating heritage, culture and traditional music has not lost its appeal in 69 years — in fact has sold out its three-week annual season for the past 21 years when at home at Edinburgh Castle — is a credit to a handful of British Armed Forces officers who have produced the Edinburgh Tattoo since it was established in 1950.
The Tattoo’s current and eighth chief executive is English Brigadier David Allfrey, the man charged with modernising the show during the past decade.
Today’s Tattoo is an open-air spectacle with fireworks, light projections, a rock-styled backing band, a full-scale replica of Edinburgh Castle and an online merchandise stall that sells everything from sweets to cashmere scarfs, from woollen hairy Highland “coos” (or cows to the rest of us) and sporran-styled handbags, to Christmas tree baubles filled with gin.
Allfrey, a former Scots Dragoon Guard who once dreamt of f a post-military ili career as a bi bigtime rock ’n’ roll producer — “like Brian Epstein” of The Beatles — is satisfied the show has broadened its international appeal during his tenure.
But he said its success is primarily due to one thing that has little to do with the militarised precision with which it is planned and executed — it is a great, big, noisy, live music event.
“This is a show that is principally about live music. It’s live music on an enormous scale. There are no rock bands that can pull together a cast of 1550 people, which is what is coming to Sydney. It’s huge. That makes an enormous noise and it is absolutely fantastic,” Allfrey said.
On the bill in Sydney will be 13 military bands representing nations including the UK, France, Switzerland, India and Indonesia, 320 pipes and drums, 100 Highland dancers, 865 military performers, 40 Scottish fiddlers, performers from Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Fiji, and a 100-strong Australian Federation Guard.
From New Zealand also come crowd favourites from last month’s Edinburgh show h — Lochiel, a backwards marching women’s drill team and the New Zealand Army Band, whose uniformed haka stops the show.
Brig Allfrey said that while there is plenty of nostalgia in the show for older fans, the Tattoo remains innovative.
“Each show is designed from scratch and is unique,” he said.
The Edinburgh Tattoo’s longevity can also be attributed to the world-class citizen performers — men and women — in the show.
Australians have become part of the Tattoo pilgrimage.
Alasdair McLaren, a pipe major with the West Australia Police Pipe Band, moved from Perth to Glasgow in 1997 after performing with the Tattoo.
The 40-year-old now holds the respected position as Pipe Major of the Tattoo’s own pipe band, the Pipers’ Trail.
Tyson Rech is in his second year with the Tattoo after being introduced to the show last year when his Australian high school, Brisbane Boys High, performed with the Tattoo at Edinburgh.
“I came across last year and had a great time,” Rech said.
“I picked the bagpipes up in grade six and just kept going with it and I joined a band outside of school … and from there decided to come across and do some international gigs which has been fantastic.”
There are no rock bands that people, can pull together a cast of 1550 which is what is coming to Sydney
Tattoo chief executive Brigadier David All frey
THE ROYAL EDINBURGH MILITARY TATTOO PERFORMS OCTOBER 17- 19 AT ANZ STADIUM, SYDNEY.
Conductor Kevin Roberts marshals the bands.
The visual spectacle and the fireworks have added a modern touch to this traditional entertainment.
The pipers are a huge part of the show run by (right) Brigadier David Allfrey.