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There is ‘something about a soldier’ and the steadfast pipes and drums

In 1949, as part of The Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama 'Something About a Soldier' was performed in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens and was the inspiration for the Edinburgh Tattoo. The aim was to bring the Army’s contribution to the festival to life.

The first official Edinburgh Military Tattoo, now the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (REMT), was held in 1950, and attracted an audience of some 6,000 spectators seated in simple bench and scaffold structures around Edinburgh Castle esplanade (an audience of 100,000 over its 20 performances). 70 years on, the show is a global showcase with multiple live performances, which still includes military acts.

Scotland’s military links to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo dates to the beginning with Brigadier Alasdair Maclean of The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders joining Lieutenant Colonel George Malcolm as Director in 1950.

An iconic and traditional element is the Lone Piper and Pipe Major George Stoddart performed as the first Tattoo Lone Piper in 1950, leading in that role for 11 consecutive years.

During the first decade of the Tattoo HRH The Duke of Edinburgh took the salute, it highlighted the changes in dress of the Scottish regiments over the previous 50 years with the 1953 show being called ‘Scotland in Arms’. The 1953 show also coincided with The Queen’s Coronation and Bands that participated in the Coronation Ceremony also took part in that year’s Tattoo. Seven decades later history is almost repeating itself as Army Pipers and Drummers who took part in the King's Coronation and the King Receiving the Honours of Scotland will perform in this year’s REMT.

Army performers included drill displays from Cadets from The Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, a parade of Toy Soldiers from The Royal Army Ordnance Corps, physical training display from the Army Apprentice School and dancers from Queen Victoria School. The input from overseas visitors increased and included performers from Ireland, Pakistan, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Australia, and Nepal.

The sixties brought in a new spin, sound recording equipment and expertise had improved and in 1961 the first twelve-inch stereo LP record was made. At the 1961 show, tri-service woman’s groups performed for the first time (the Women’s Royal Naval Service, Women’s Royal Army Corps, and the Women’s Royal Air Force). The following year, the finale bandsmen played Chubby Checker’s ‘Let’s Twist Again’ with mass audience participation on the Esplanade.

The Royal Army Medical Corps performed for the first time during the sixties, as did the Royal Artillery Motor Cycle Display Team. The Army Physical Training Corp also featured, giving a gymnastic display with a team that included some of the UK’s top-ranking gymnasts.

The first vocalist was introduced in 1968. Sergeant Muir, a cook from the Scot’s Guards’ Sergeants’ Mess sang ‘If I Ruled the World’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory.’

Over the next 20 years the Edinburgh Tattoo included performers and units from all three services and military acts from across the globe, but one element that has lasted the course and is the foundation of the musical accolade: the Pipes and Drums and their links to historic Scottish regiments.

Officer Cadet Elaine Marnoch became the first female Lone Piper in 1977.

Elaine Marnoch - the first female Lone Piper

Elaine was Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Kieron Potts' late wife and he recalls:

“Elaine talked of her times at various REMTs and would often refer to the 1977 Tattoo and her part in it.  She was immensely flattered to have been asked to be the lone piper and very proud to have represented the TA, her OTC and to be given the honour of being the first lady piper to have fulfilled the role. She always looked back on that time very fondly.”

In 1980 production included a dramatic display where a Piper was lowered on to the Esplanade by an RAF helicopter. During the 1985 Tattoo, musicians from the four Scottish Pipe Bands joined together in two teams to dance “The Argyll Broadswords”.

And did you know ‘Highland Cathedral’ one of the world’s most famous pipe pieces was performed for the first time at the Tattoo?

Over time the show moved away from historical themes and moved to a more musical event. The Tattoo fielded the largest number of pipers and drummers in its history – up to that time.

The focus for the 1999 Tattoo was the 200th anniversary of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders – the Thin Red Line of the Battle of Balaklava in 1854. Pipe Major Gavin Stoddart performed as the Lone Piper. Following in the footsteps of his father, Pipe Major George Stoddart.

In 2004 the Tattoo began the tradition of having a lead service. The Royal Air Force became the first Tattoo lead service with the Royal Navy leading the following year – 2005 marked 60 years since the end of World War II and 200 years since the Battle of Trafalgar.

HRH Princess Anne became Patron of the Tattoo in 2006 and in 2010 The Edinburgh Military Tattoo became The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the Royal title bestowed by the Late Her Majesty The Queen.

In 2012 Senior Drum Major WO2 Michael Hay performed for the first time as Drum Major at the Tattoo, the same year it commemorated the 60th Anniversary of The Queen’s Coronation. One memorable show in 2014 saw the entire Tattoo crowd hold candles (LED) in commemoration of the centenary since the start of World War I.

Senior Drum Major WO2 Mick Hay

Mick performed his last Tattoo in 2019, having led the Massed Pipes and Drums for the previous eight Tattoos. He also retired from his 30-year military career, handing his mace over to Senior Drum Major WO2 Allan Campbell. That same year also marked the 70th Anniversary of NATO.

This year the REMT is titled ‘Stories’ and last year we had the stories of the brothers, identical twins Pipe and Drum Major Muir 3 SCOTS and brothers from 4 SCOTS Pipe and Drum Major Grant – all four performed together. Let us see where the Piper’s stories take us this year as Pipers and Drummers from across the Army come together once again.

Senior Pipe Major Colin Simpson

From the Army School of Bagpipe and Highland Drumming (ASBM&HD), Colin Simpson, who is performing this year, said:

“Piping and Drumming on the Tattoo is a great opportunity to meet fellow Pipers and Drummers from around the World and make lifelong friends. The Pipes and Drums are the first act on the Tattoo and the last to leave the castle esplanade after the finale. For Pipers and Drummers whether it’s their first Tattoo or 10th Tattoo they still get the same buzz and excitement when the drawbridge doors open and the massed Pipes and Drums March out on to the esplanade.”

He added: “The ASBM&HD historical link to the REMT goes back to when the Tattoo started, and the Piping School was based in Edinburgh Castle. The Director of Army Bagpipe Music and his team would always do an assurance check whenever there were more than five bands on parade, which continues to the present day.”  

Colin will also be this year's Lone Piper:

“The Lone Piper is only available to serving personnel who have completed a Pipe Majors Course. All eyes are on the Lone piper, an audience of 9000 each show with 26 shows in total, potentially live streaming around the world plus the additional 800-1000 cast members listening in.”

Did you know?

A military tattoo takes place with clockwork precision and did you know that the term ‘tattoo’ derives from the 17th-century Dutch phrase do den tap toe (‘turn off the tap)’ - a signal to tavern owners each night, played by a regiment’s Corp of Drums, to turn off the taps of their ail 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.

Tattoo | noun | An evening drum or bugle signal recalling soldiers to their quarters.

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