Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2023: What is it? Why is it called a tattoo? Origins and guide
This week we welcome the opening night of the Edinburgh Tattoo which will run from Friday, August 4 to Saturday, August 26. Much like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe or the International Festival, this annual event has emerged as one of Scotland’s most famous as it dazzles thousands of guests from around the world.
Staged on the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade, this high-energy showcase thrills audiences with its world famous mix of music and dance coupled with a military display. As a land with a decorated history of hard fought battles, castle conquests and legendary kings, it comes as no surprise that Scotland has a long military history which is intertwined with the origins of this performance.
From its humble beginnings to its celebrated status today, here is an overview of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
What is a military tattoo?
In short, a military tattoo is a display by armed forces i.e., a military performance. From its origins that take us back to 1949, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has become one of the most famous worldwide. At the event, audiences are treated to a spectacular performance by the British Armed Forces and international military.
Other cultural bands feature too and the atmosphere is ignited by a majestic selection of music, projections and fireworks.
Why is a military tattoo so called?
Unlike the famous ink tattoos associated with the Picts (Scotland’s ancestors) in this context a ‘tattoo’ refers to something totally different. It is said to originate from the Dutch phrase “doe den tap toe” which means “turn off the taps”.
The phrase was used to signal to 17th century tavern owners to stop serving drinks so the soldiers could go to sleep. This was later adopted by the British army who would use it to get their soldiers to return to barracks after their regiment’s drum corps signalled to do so.
History of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Edinburgh held a modest event known as “Something about a Soldier” in 1949. It was created to portray the support of the city’s International Festival by the army. The event took place at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens which can still be found resting below Edinburgh Castle today.
In 1950, the first Edinburgh Tattoo took place and it attracted an audience of one hundred thousand people over twenty performances. The final one was attended by Queen Elizabeth and HRH Princess Margaret. It only became known as the “Royal” Tattoo after the recently deceased Queen Elizabeth II added the prestige to the title to celebrate sixty decades of the showcase.
Fittingly, her majesty’s body lay at rest at St Giles’ Church in Edinburgh after she passed away in the Balmoral Estate in Scotland. Fireworks were used at the first production of the show and have been kept as a tradition to mark the finale of each show.
Where does the tattoo take place?
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo takes place on the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade where a grandstand with a capacity of around 8,800 seats is built. The event concludes with a march down the Royal Mile which runs through the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Weather forecast for the tattoo
According to Weather Atlas: “The month with the most rainfall is August, when the rain falls for 21.3 days and typically aggregates up to 70mm (2.76") of precipitation.”
Scottish weather is famously rainy (there are over 100 Scottish words for “rain”) and the tattoo has never been cancelled on account of that so be sure to bring warm and waterproof clothes. Furthermore, don’t forget that umbrellas are not permitted as they may hurt other guests or obstruct their views.
Who is performing in 2023?
The Scotland Organisation reports: ““Stories” will be the focus in 2023, and the show will be a celebration of sagas, myths, and legends, transporting audiences on a journey of ideas - from the earliest campfire stories through to the world stage.”
Here is the full line-up:
- The Band of His Majesty’s Royal Marines Scotland
- The Central Band of the Royal Air Force
- The Band of the Royal Air Force Regiment
- The Royal Air Force Salon Orchestra
- Royal Air Force Bands
- 1st Battalion The Irish Guards Drums and Pipes
- The Pipes and Drums of The Royal Highland Fusiliers 2nd Battalion
- The Royal Regiment of Scotland
- The Pipes and Drums of 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland
- Combined Scottish Universities Officers’ Training Corps Pipes and Drums
- Royal Air Force Pipes and Drums
- The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Pipes and Drums
- The Scots College Sydney Pipes and Drums
- The Scots College Sydney Old Boys Pipes and Drums
- The Scots School Albury Pipe Band
- The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Dancers
- The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Fiddlers
- King’s Colour Squadron Royal Air Force
- The Swiss Armed Forces Central Band
- His Majesty the King’s Guard Band and Drill Team of Norway
- The United States Air Force Band
- Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force Steel Orchestra
For any other questions relating to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo including its history or 2023 performance details, check out the event’s official website which has a convenient FAQ page.
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