Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

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The 2011 Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Interior view of the stands set up for the 2016 Tattoo

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an annual series of military tattoos performed by British Armed Forces, Commonwealth and international military bands and artistic performance teams on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle in the capital of Scotland. The event is held each August as part of the Edinburgh Festival.

History and etymology[edit]


The term "tattoo" derives from a 17th-century Dutch phrase doe den tap toe ("turn off the tap") a signal to tavern owners each night, played by a regiment's Corps of Drums, 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 the last duty call of the day, as well as a ceremonial form of evening entertainment performed by military musicians.[1]


The first public military tattoo in Edinburgh was entitled "Something About a Soldier" and took place at the Ross Bandstand, Princes Street Gardens, in 1949. The first official Edinburgh Military Tattoo was held in 1950 with eight items in the programme. It drew some 6,000 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 7,700, allowing 160,000 to watch the multiple live performances.

Seating expansion[edit]

Since the 1970s on average, just over 217,000 people see the Tattoo live on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle each year, and it has sold out in advance for the last decade. 30% of the audience are from Scotland and 35% from the rest of the United Kingdom. The remaining 35% of the audience consists of 70,000 visitors from overseas.

The new stands in place for the Tattoo of 2012

The temporary grandstands on the castle esplanade, used between 1975 and 2010, had a capacity of 8,600.[2] New £16 million spectator stands and corporate hospitality boxes came into use in 2011. The new temporary stands reduced the time taken to erect and dismantle them from the original two months to one month, allowing the esplanade to host events at other times of the year.[3]


The Tattoo performance takes place every weekday evening and twice on Saturdays throughout August and has never been cancelled due to inclement weather. The second Saturday night performance includes a fireworks display, although each performance uses pyrotechnics and since 2005 has also incorporated a son et lumière element projected on to the facade of the Castle.

Since 2004, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo has also held free abridged performances at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens, entitled "Taste of the Tattoo",[4] and as of 2008 also in George Square in Glasgow.[5] The Edinburgh Military Tattoo has also toured overseas, visiting New Zealand in 2000 as part of the Tattoo's 50th anniversary celebrations. It visited Australia in 2005 and returned to the Sydney Football Stadium in February 2010 as part of the Tattoo's 60th anniversary celebrations.[6] It has been announced that the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo will be heading to Melbourne[7] and Wellington, New Zealand in February 2016, the first time in 16 years since it was last held there.[8]

As of 2014 the Princess Royal is the patron of the event, with the main corporate sponsor being the Royal Bank of Scotland.

In 2010 the event became the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo after HM Queen Elizabeth awarded the Royal title in celebration of its six decades of existence.

The Bonnie Lass o' Fyvie being performed at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2007

International exposure[edit]

The Tattoo is televised in 30 countries and a further 100 million people see the event on television worldwide.[citation needed] In Britain the BBC broadcasts the event annually, with commentary in 2009 and 2010 provided by BBC Radio Scotland presenter Iain Anderson. Bill Paterson has provided commentary since 2011; before 2009, Tom Fleming commentated, not missing a year between 1966 and 2008. In Australia the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) traditionally telecasts the Tattoo on the evening of New Year's Eve, although in a break with tradition, the 2006 Tattoo was broadcast a day earlier on 30 December, the 2007 Tattoo was broadcast even earlier on Christmas Eve, and the 2009 Tattoo was broadcast two days after New Year's Eve on 2 January 2010. These changes were made so the ABC could expand its news coverage of local New Year celebrations.

The Tattoo is run for charitable causes and over the years has given over £5 million to military and civilian charities and organisations, such as the Army Benevolent Fund. However, the greater benefit has been that, by independent count, it generates £88 million in revenue for Edinburgh's economy annually.

The official magazine of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Salute, is distributed free to sponsors, Friends of the Tattoo, and visiting performers.


The 2005 Edinburgh Military Tattoo celebrated Trafalgar 200

International military regiments and even African tribes have performed at the Tattoo over the years. The first regiment from outside the UK to take part was the Band of the Royal Netherlands Grenadiers in 1952. So far, over 30 countries from nearly all continents have been represented at the Tattoo. Popular visiting performers include the Swiss Top Secret Drum Corps, who performed at the 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2015 Tattoos and were the first non-military drum corps to participate. The Band and Drill team of His Majesty The King's Guard of the Norwegian Army has also performed at the Tattoo on eight previous occasions since 1961, adopting Nils Olav, a penguin at Edinburgh Zoo, as their regimental mascot in 1972. In recent years, performances have included cultural dances and items from different countries.

Each year has a 'lead' service from the British Armed Forces, alternating between the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, the British Army and the Royal Air Force. Although each year also celebrates or commemorates a particular organisation, anniversary, theme or event. The highlight of every Tattoo however continues to be the massed pipes and drums, provided by regiments of the British Army and visiting civilian and military pipes and drums from around the world, although primarily from Commonwealth nations with Scottish connections. Since 2014, a house pipe band was introduced to allow individual pipers and drummers from not only Scotland but across many parts of the world to play in the Tattoo. They're known as the Pipers' Trail which joins in with the massed pipes and drums each year and are the first pipe band with no military connections to play in the Tattoo. An Each evening traditionally concludes with the massed pipes and drums marching on to join the massed military bands. This is then followed by a rendition of the National Anthem and Auld Lang Syne. There is then a flag-lowering ceremony (see Beating Retreat), with the bugles either sounding the Last Post, or the "Sunset" bugle call of the Royal Marines, and ends with a floodlit lone piper playing a Lament from high on the ramparts of the Half Moon Battery. The performers then march off the esplanade and down the Royal Mile to three separate pieces of music:

  • The non-musical performers leave the esplanade to the tune of Scotland the Brave
  • The massed bands march off to the tune of No awa' tae bide awa'
  • The massed pipes and drums march off to The Black Bear

The 2005 Tattoo saw one of the largest gathering of pipes and drums in the event's history, with 13 bands on parade, including the pipes and drums of all six regular infantry regiments of the Scottish Division. This was the last time all six appeared at the Tattoo prior to the formation of the Royal Regiment of Scotland:

In addition, there were also the pipes and drums of the Scots Guards, Irish Guards, Royal Gurkha Rifles, Scottish Officers Training Corps, South African Irish Regiment, the Rats of Tobruk, the City of Wellington pipe band and The Scots College Pipes and Drums band, being one of the only school bands to participate. The largest ever gathering of massed pipes and drums was for the 50th anniversary tattoo in 2000 when there were 15 bands on parade, including 7 of the eight Scottish regiments. Throughout the period of the Tattoo, the performers are accommodated at the city's Redford Cavalry Barracks, with the parade square used for rehearsals.


Producers of the Edinburgh Tattoo have included:

  • Lt Col George Malcolm of Poltalloch – Produced a pageant on the Castle Esplanade in 1947 entitled "The King's Men" and produced the first Edinburgh Tattoo in 1950.
  • Captain Forbes Taylor – Produced the 1952 Tattoo. As a professional film director, Captain Forbes Taylor provided the experience upon which the format for subsequent Tattoos were set and included the first overseas performers.
  • Brigadier Alistair MacLean of Pennycross – Director of the Tattoo from 1950, he took over as the Producer in 1953.
  • Lt Col Duncan Carter-Campbell of Possil – Served with the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) and took over in 1960.
  • Brigadier Jack Sanderson – Former Scots Guards officer, he took over in 1968.
  • Lt Col Leslie Dow – Served with the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) and became producer in 1976.
  • Major Michael Parker – Producer of the Royal Tournament (1974–99), the Berlin Tattoo as well as the VE & VJ Day commemorations in 1995. Producer of the Tattoo from 1992–4
  • Brigadier Melville Jameson – Served with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and former commander of the Highland Brigade. Producer of the Tattoo from 1994–2006.
  • Major-General Euan Loudon – Served with the Royal Highland Fusiliers and former GOC 2nd Division and Governor of Edinburgh Castle. Took over the producer's post in 2007.
  • Brigadier David Allfrey MBE – Served with The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. Current producer after taking over from Maj-Gen Louden in 2011

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "What is a "Tattoo"?". Heartland International Tattoo. Archived from the original on 23 July 2011. Retrieved 9 October 2010. 
  2. ^ Mike Wade (25 July 2008). "Fighting talk from the general as Military Tattoo faces stiffest battle". The Times. Retrieved 9 October 2010. 
  3. ^ "Tattoo stands and delivers £16m arena". Edinburgh Evening News. 8 May 2009. Retrieved 9 October 2010. 
  4. ^ Katie Emslie, John Gibson (25 July 2005). "Mini-military tattoo marches into city's annual calendar". The Scotsman. Retrieved 9 October 2010. 
  5. ^ "Edinburgh Tattoo takes on Glasgow". BBC News. 5 August 2008. Retrieved 9 October 2010. 
  6. ^ "Edinburgh Tattoo to go down under". BBC News. 3 March 2009. Retrieved 9 October 2010. 
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Discover Wellington Retrieved 8 August 2015


External links[edit]