The Edinburgh Tattoo- What is it?

We’ve all heard about it some of us might even have watched it on the telly but what is it? The full title is The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and it is held at Edinburgh Castle. The word “tattoo” comes from “Doe den tap toe” which translates to “Turn the taps off” and were the words used at chucking out time in inns and taverns in the Low Countries  during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. 

The show showcases the display teams of military services across the world and since it started in 1950 over 40 countries have been represented from the Royal Mounties of Canada through to South African Zulu Warriors. Their demonstrations are all artfully combined into a show of thrills, spills and music. The whole thing is opened once all the audience is seated with the pipes and drums of the Scottish regiments marching into the parade ground through the Castle gates. Their parade is flanked by effigies of the two most famous Scottish military heroes Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. And for the next ninety minutes the show is a non-stop parade of colour and skill as guns are built and fired, soldiers parade and military bands play. The finale sees all the participants coming together for the final display around 1,000 people in their brightly coloured costumes is truly a spectacle to behold, especially the specially commissioned fireworks. With the show actually closing to the emotive sound of the Lone Piper, playing his haunting lament from high up on the ramparts.

2012 promises to be an extra special year as the Tattoo celebrates Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee and also Creative Scotland. Nearly 1,000  performers are taking part. Some of the highlights promise to be  Switzerland’s Top Secret Drum Core, a stunning percussion band enjoying world renown and from Norway, His Majesty The King’s Guard Band and Drill Team who demonstrate their precision and discipline in a spine tingling drill display where all the men make their movements in exact time with one another like automatons.

Over 217,000 people come to watch during the three weeks of the Tattoo with more than a million people watching it globally on television. It’s estimated that the Tattoo brings over £8 million revenue into Scotland and around 70% of the audience comes from outside of Scotland. No performance has ever been cancelled and visitors return year after year to see the spectacle. Things are always better live so why not head along to Edinburgh for the Tattoo. The first performance of 2012 is on August 3rd and the last on the 25th and this year promises to be extra special.


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