You’re Going To Get A Tattoo?

No no, what I SAID was, “I’m going to THE Tattoo!” OK, I’ll explain…

The word “Tattoo,” is derived from “Doe den tap toe”, or just “tap toe” (“toe” is pronounced “too”), Dutch for “Last Orders”. Translated literally, it means: “close the (beer) tap”. It started when the British Army was quartered in “the low countries” during the Austrian War of Succession, and was the cry that accompanied the beat of the drums as the pipe and drum corps marched through town, and was a signal to “turn off the taps,” it’s time for the soldiers to return to their barracks.

It evolved over the years to become a form of evening entertainment performed by the various military musicians, but primarily the pipes and drums.

In 1950, the military decided to take part in The Edinburgh Festival, an annual celebration of the arts that transforms Edinburgh, Scotland for the month of August. Erecting grandstands around three sides of the castle esplanade, and with the castle itself as an imposing backdrop, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has grown into a spectacular event that sells out its three-week run of performances, every night but Sunday, and with two on Saturday. It is also televised all over Europe, which further enhances its reputation as a “must see” event.

I attended my first Tattoo in 1998, and it literally brought me to tears. This August marked my fifth time to attend, and it was as spectacular as ever. With new grandstands in place since 2011, the seats are more comfortable and, while not generous, more spacious than the previous ones.

I have always attended the late Saturday show, as the darkness that has finally fallen at that late hour allows the full impact of the incredible lighting of the performance, and graphics that are projected on the castle facade. The fireworks that cap the show off are an added bonus.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, 2013

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, 2013

But it’s not just pipes and drums. They bring in guest artists from all over the world. This year, for instance, there were performers from South Korea (in observance of the 60th anniversary of the Korean Truce), Mexico, and Mongolia, as well as the military band from New Zealand, which absolutely stole the show! And as all the performers take the esplanade for the grand finale, the lights dim, a solitary spotlight illuminates a lone piper, high on the castle battlements, and upon completion of his solo, the massed bands play “Auld Lang Syne,” as the 8,500 spectators in attendance join hands and sing along.

Massed bands, the finale of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Massed bands, the finale of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Corny? Maybe. But it was, as always, extremely moving. The atmosphere is like nothing else I have ever attended. But then again, I am a fan of the pipes, and, indeed, most things Scottish. I’ve already ruminated on the lure of Single Malt Scotch, and I even like Haggis. So am I Scottish? No, seems I’m Irish, with a little bit of English thrown in, although I hope the Scots will forgive me that.

If you’d like more information on the Tattoo ( it really SHOULD be on your bucket list, you know),you can find it here:

Of course, we spent many more days in Scotland, and had the good fortune to run in to Mr. Neil Clark, a champion piper, as he played on the grounds of Urquhart Castle, overlooking fabled Loch Ness.

To borrow a phrase from Spinal Tap: “‘Tis a magic place!”

Neil Clark, Champion Piper

Neil Clark, Champion Piper


2 thoughts on “You’re Going To Get A Tattoo?

  1. Tom & Tanya

    Hello: our paths may have almost crossed, as we were also in Scotland in Sept. 2013. We have been in Scotland the last 3 Septembers. We holiday with Tanya’s Piping Instructor and his lovely wife, Susan. The Champion Piper Neil Clark. We were piping with Neil at Urquhart Castle, in September. Neil and Susan have made holidays of a lifetime for us year after year. Neil is not only a world class piper he also is a world class instructor. He takes great pleasure in teaching the local children and organizing their band. He can tutor the best of pipers anywhere in the world on Skype. Our first stay with the Clark’s he took to a Schotts and Dykehead band practice. That is a certainly not what the average tourist would have chance to do. He even coordinated my purchase of MacDougall Bagpipes and got me started into the bag piping world. My wife has been taking weekly lessons with Neil for 3 years now. Great family.


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