Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo: History and Etymology

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an annual series of Military tattoos performed by British Armed Forces, Commonwealth and International military bands and display teams in the Scottish capital Edinburgh. The event takes place annually throughout August, as part of the wider Edinburgh Festival (a collective name for many independent festivals and events in Edinburgh in August).

The word “Tattoo” is derived from “Doe den tap toe”, or just “tap toe” (“toe” is pronounced “too”), the Dutch for “Last orders”. Translated literally, it means: “put the tap to”, or “close or turn off the tap”. The term “Tap-toe” was first encountered by the British Army when stationed in Flanders during the War of the Austrian Succession.

The British adopted the practice and it became a signal, played by a regiment’s Corps of Drums or Pipes and Drums each night to tavern owners 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 not only the last duty call of the day, but also a ceremonial form of evening entertainment performed by Military musicians.

Although the first Tattoo in Edinburgh, entitled “Something About a Soldier”, took place at the Ross Bandstand at Princes Street Gardens in 1949, the first official Edinburgh Military Tattoo began in 1950 with just eight items in the programme. It drew some 6000 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 7700, allowing 160,000 to watch live performances each year.

Against the spectacular backdrop of Scotland’s top tourist attraction, performers from four continents, including participants from as far afield as South Africa and South America, together with the finest modern production technology, are set to provide an abundance of matchless entertainment every year on the floodlit esplanade of Edinburgh Castle.

The action-packed programme will feature exciting contributions from the Massed Bands of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, Highland Dancing, the Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and the stirring music of the world-famous Massed Pipes and Drums.

An international flavour will be added by, amongst others, a Dutch Mounted Bicycle Band and South Africa’s Navy Band.

A huge audience favourite is once again expected to be the traditional and poignant close of the evening’s proceedings when the Lone Piper high on the Castle ramparts plays a haunting lament, before the colourful, cosmopolitan cast march off the Esplanade to the strains of famous pipe melody, The Black Bear

Book tickets for Edinburgh Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle!

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