Article: 2013 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

I was unsure where to put this review, although I'm sure I shall receive a number of creative suggestions. Anyway, here goes.

As a veteran paying guest of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo I have seen the event decline over at least 15 years and I think the time is now right to provide a review of the 2013 show.

I attended this year’s show and found that instead of being themed around one of the British Armed Forces, it celebrated the World and our relationship with it. The traditional format of UK military personnel performing for the crowds made way for a sequence of foreign novelty acts, which although likely to be entertaining at a Spanish all-inclusive holiday resort were not well suited for the rigours of the UK’s premier military tattoo.

Now, don’t think for a minute that UK military personnel were absent from the tattoo. There were the usual military musicians from a variety of UK and some overseas pipe bands. There were also three military bands, one of them from the RLC. All good stuff (and they were, by the way), you may think, but apart from the Tattoo Support Company from the Black Watch, that was it. Where was the Infantry demonstration of previous years where the oblivious enemy sentry was silenced at the point of a bayonet? And then all the flash-bang pyro to impress the audience. Where was the precision rifle drill of the Queens Colour Squadron? The motor-cycle display teams of the White Helmets or Flying Gunners? Where was the Royal Marine death slide from the castle ramparts? Or the Navy field gun competition? Or the military working dog demonstration with an unfortunate volunteer being dragged around the esplanade to the cheers of a baying crowd. Although these units and events have all performed at the tattoo in past years, this year apart from musicians, the UK Armed Forces were entirely absent from the tattoo.

So what do you get for your 50 quid entrance fee? Well this year you get a school choir and a children’s motor-cycle display team. You also get Korean dancers and a Mexican musical ensemble who sound like the Patagonians. The New Zealand Army band offered some vague military respite at the 51 minute point when they blasted out a 15 second burst of “Colonel Bogey”. Other than the pipe bands at the beginning, these few notes of “The Colonel” represented the first military related occurrence in the show. Unfortunately a short time later they turned into a skiffle band and four musicians downed their instruments to dance the “Gangnam” as their colleagues played on. To be fair one of the dancers was built in the mould of the Walrus and he should be commended for his nimble agility, despite his ample girth.

The New Zealand Army band then provided the musical support for a New Zealand female precision marching troupe. The troupe performed a number of complex drill movements including a slower and less impressive version of the White Helmets crossover ride. The Orchestra of the Mongolian Armed Forces followed and demonstrated their much acclaimed “throat singing” (Hmmm). It was a unique experience but apart from the elaborate Gengis Khan uniforms it wasn’t a particularly memorable military experience. The massed bands rounded off the show and it was during this finale that I had to explain to an adjacent American tourist that the Band and Buglers of The Rifles were not part of our “gay” Regiment, and that the increased pace quick march was based on tradition and not sexuality.

So, overall I would describe this year’s tattoo as the poorest I have witnessed, and I have seen many. It is clear that either UK PLC cannot muster a few decent “gigs” of our own to impress the tourists, or the tattoo is not prepared to pay for them to perform. They are still prepared to take your entrance fee, though. Instead the tattoo relies on a series of novelty foreign acts which in the past would have been used only as “padding”, as the next UK act prepared to move into position. This year, these novelty "turns" took centre stage.

So, now we reach the Walrus’ overall assessment. Frankly, it was rubbish and not worth the price of the entrance fee. If serving military personnel are paid to put this shambles together then they should hang their heads in shame. This year many people left the event early to beat the rush; unheard of five years ago. So if you’re thinking of catching the tattoo in its last few days, think again. Take your 50 quid to my local, The Guild Ford Arms in Back Register Street and tell them the Walrus sent you. You won’t be sorry.


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Walrusboy, totally agree with your assessment and I have only seen the programme not the actual show. I feel that now is the time to drop "Military" from the title. I think that it has been going downhill for years and while I realise that the armed services are much smaller, this is just taking the piss.
I think the deterioration in the quality of the tattoo has been the "elephant in the room" for years. Those who don't attend the event genuinely believe that the tattoo is a celebration of our Armed Forces and those who do attend are surprised to find them almost entirely absent. An hour into this year's event I heard an American tourist ask other members of his party, when they were going to bring some British soldiers on. I also heard a child ask her parents if they were saving the British soldiers until the end of the show.

Surely we can put together at least a couple of demonstrations. Even if we use some Reservists to put on a show. In a past tattoo I saw an impressive re-enactment of a "behind the lines operation" by a TA SAS unit. It was very well received by the audience and it gave you some pride that there is more to our Armed Forces than just music.

Even if there is an entire reliance on overseas performers, the tattoo producer should be sourcing genuine military units with impressive acts such as the US Army rifle drill team. It's much more exciting for the audience when there is a chance of serious injury by a chromed bayonet on the end of a twirling rifle. There would also be less likelihood of feeling that you had been "ripped off" for the price of a ticket.


It's all part of Wee Eck's plan to show Scotland's true place in the context of World culture.


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I don't think Wee Eck can take the blame for this one. It is firmly in the hands of senior retired officers who are not usually known for their Independence support.

Seriou as ly, they should be ashamed to call this a military tattoo, it is just a variety show with some Scottish tunes and some highland dancing.


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And what did the British component do?
I thought it was pretty good (I was there this year), pretty entertaining, the British component was the best I thought
I wonder if Pepper Sea Dog saw the same show as me. Or whether I walked into a fringe gig of international medicrity. There was no UK military component, other than the musicians mentioned earlier.

Auld-Yin's description of a variety show is a fair one.
I wonder if Pepper Sea Dog saw the same show as me. Or whether I walked into a fringe gig of international medicrity. There was no UK military component, other than the musicians mentioned earlier.

Auld-Yin's description of a variety show is a fair one.
I agree with the variety show verdict, and I was talking about the musicians
Couldn't agree more, after years of the missus bursting my heid to take her and, even after enduring the ridiculous situation that you can't buy the tickets over the counter from the 'tattoo office' on the day sales open, I took her there this year.

Imagine my disappointment when instead of seeing a reenactment of terry getting smashed or something of that ilk I had to endure a bunch of South Americans who would have been better placed in the local Chiquitos (or however you spell it) dishing out tacos.

Even though the missus enjoyed it she questioned what was military about it.

To sum it up, with the exception of the pipes drums etc it was utter, utter pish.

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The tattoo had been steadily in decline ever since Brig Jameson made the company more profit driven. His successor Louden was no better, both generally being pricks of the highest order. It's always important to note that there's nothing remotely military about the tattoo, it's an event run by a profit-driven company (turns over ~£7m per year) which utilises the armed forces as a crowd draw and cheap labour.

They do employ some tasty lassies though...
A work colleague is a former member of the Skates' field gun team and greatly regrets their demise; I concur. Nice little gem about LI pace!


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do we have anyone to send nowadays?

I guess as they are doing their best to reduce the uk defense forces to a token smudge on the balance sheet our leaders want as little as possible to give us any pride in them.
Relax: very soon (as at 31 Dec 14) we will have an Army of 82,000 with very little to do except Tattoos and the like (the appetite for foreign adventures having possibly faded a little).

So it should be a pretty good show from 2015 onwards.
Its all gone PC. I used to love it when a Series 3, roof and doors off, came roaring through the castle doors and into the parade ground, Gimpy blatting away and the sound of the crowds gasp as the first thunderflash went off. Thats what it was about for me...the music, back then, all provided by military or associated bands, was of little interest. I wanted the the sound of brass tinkling its way across the ashphelt. (I was young and read Commando comics!)

Same reason I loved the Royal Tournament when the RM came out in there tracked BV's, dressed in snow suits, to rescue the fair maiden (I think it was Miss UK the last time I went).

Nah, even the Scottish Regiments cannot put on a massed pipe bands without the help of civvie bands these days, and we have just heard the 3 existing bands will be disbanded to be replaced with 6 pipers, 2 snares and a tenor per battalion.

Gone are the days of Guts n Glory, to be replaced with a fluffy, PC orientated family show. They won't be getting my money again!
I went last year, there was more of a military 'feel' to it, albeit an international military feel. There was very little in the way of British military involvement, other than doing some of the mundane jobs around the arena and a surprisingly small element of the massed band.

I, too, was left feeling a more little let down when considering the cost of the event (tickets, travel and accomodation bumped the price up to £250+).

IMHO it has become a self-serving event for the benefit of Edinburgh and those who attain kudos from it, with little for the British military to gain. The organisers get a free work force and a boost to their self-importance and I agree that the word military should be dropped from the title.

I'm glad I went, but would never attend another and wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
I too felt cheated after watching this year's effort. Some 30 years ago I was stationed in Edinburgh and attended numerous tattoos on duty "behind the scenes". As well as the lack of British "military" involvement in the actual display, I was saddened to see that the Massed Pipes and Drums were a shadow of their former glory and that when the Massed Bands were on, the Director of Music's dais was halfway up the Esplanade, instead of being just below the VIP stands, as I remember it. Other than the musicians, the only other "military" contribution was the sight of two Tornados opening the event at 21.00 with a swift flypast! I wonder if the cost of putting two fast jets into the air for each performance had some impact on the participation of the rest of the Armed Forces?
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