After dinner we were bundled into buses for the first of many bus rides into the centre
of Edinburgh. The buses were escorted by Police motorcyclists who took a circuitous route
to avoid any confrontations with the anti bagpipe battalion of El Queda`s Edinburgh
Regiment. I jest. The security was very good but we did have a sneaking suspicion
that the "colonials" were used as a decoy as we always had the crappy bus and were
always at the back of the convoy.
That first time as you can imagine for a bunch of South Africans the prospect of
seeing this near mythical castle for the first time pushed the excitement levels
to a new high, with some of the younger members going "there it is, there it is"
only to be bought down to earth by the grumpier old salts who had been there before
with "ya but soon you will hate the sight of it". The buses coordinated by the Brit
military police are herded onto the esplanade in what can only be described as a
"military exercise" in that it looked impossible to begin with but somehow worked.
Its only when all the busses were stationary that we were allowed to disembark and walk for the first
time across the drawbridge and through the gatehouse into the castle.
Once inside and once we had overcome our sense of awe we were herded up to the
top of the castle to probably the only flat piece of ground there is for our
pre-rehearsal tune -up, something we would do a lot of. This didn't take long
and soon we were at the gatehouse again ready for our cue to go on which for the
rehearsal took the form of a shouted command but later became the sound of the cannons
firing above our heads after the Royal Marine fanfare trumpeters had finished. The
first time the cannons fired it was without warning and almost resulted in bands having
a collective heart attack, this time however it was quite relaxed.
"By the centre, quick march" was the command and with the usual double set of
three beat rolls we were off. Now its worth pointing out that there were 15
pipe bands in attendance who had to all go through an opening maybe 4 meters
wide and 20 meters long, it was a pretty tight squeeze. Once inside the tunnel
leading out to the esplanade military order became more like the first day of
the post Christmas sales with pipers and drummers elbowing, pushing, shoving
and all making a concerted effort to stay on their feet as falling meant
certain death and burial in a low pancake shaped casket! The sound however
combined with the sense of arrival cannot be described to the layperson, impossible!
Better than sex, better than the cigarette after sex or even the
cigarette after a meal, better even than riding an 1100cc motorcycle without clothing
at 250 km/h down the N3 to collect your lottery winnings!
Suddenly the whole picture opens up and you're on the esplanade, its without a
public audience of course but you've finally arrived. You're in the EDINBURGH
TATTOO. Playing the march on set the parade is taking very small steps at the
front so that the performers in the back of the parade who are still fighting
their way through the drawbridge can catch up without looking like "the ministry
of funny walks". "Cullen Bay" the first tune in the march on set is a nice
laid back number that gave the parade loads of time to get onto the esplanade
completely in time for "Heroes of Kohima" which is a slow march, so suddenly
its into slow time. We don't do this often (nobody does) and thankfully with
the help of our Drum Major Johan Le Roux we had practiced it extensively in
Johannesburg prior to the Tattoo and didn't disgrace ourselves. Its actually
a nice respite which prepares you for the next tune "Marie's Wedding" which
propelled us suddenly at speed down the esplanade and just before the counter
march it was into tune four, "Dewar's Spirit of the Tattoo". At the bottom of
the esplanade it's a counter march with the "drummie" from the Royal Highland
Fusiliers leading the way and after a few yards its tune five "Minstrel Boy"
(Irish) which gets us three quarters back up the esplanade where we break into
"When you and I were young Maggie" (Irish). The part that comes next is the
trickiest because the entire parade has to counter march but because the
esplanade is not entirely rectangular the bands nearer to the flanks had
less space to turn around and this resulted in some pretty snug counter marches.
It all seemed to work however and soon we were heading back down the esplanade
for the second time and looking out for the moment when we would slam our feet
into the tarmac as we halt and stand prepared to march off again into the
"Formation Set". The last bar is a kind of drawn out arrangement and with
drummers doing a final flourish, which ends in a kind of ratta, tat tat
and with the last "tat" we halt.
This is where the narrator introduces us and we set off into the "formation set"
much like we had done at the barracks only this time we are encouraged to find
a visual marker to line up with so that you can ensure you are in a similar position each night.
With a "reform band" and associated chaos (which was refined very quickly} it was back up
to the drummers at speed, an about turn and off with "Cock O the North". When the
massed pipes and drums come off the esplanade it basically splits in two and goes
out the two entrances heading down the Royal Mile. The music is engineered
so that in the second part of Cock O the North takes us just under the stands where we cut out.
That was the massed bands pretty much taken care of, we did it a few more times
over the next few days leading up to the first Saturday when we were due to do
the first two real performances.
Practicing for the finale sequence took the form of the massed pipes and drums
marching on silently to the strains of "Mull of Kintyre" and striking in on
the march as we moved between the ranks of the already assembled massed military
bands. This was quite tricky as the military bands were playing the melody and
we marched on whilst our half of the esplanade was in darkness and the tempo
seemed to change leaving some of us out of step quite often. (Uncoordinated prats - Ed.)
We enter as we left from underneath the Royal Box in our band file and the SA Irish
now had to take station between the Black Watch and a rank of military bandsmen made
up of Royal Marines, Lowland Division and the Norwegian Kings Guard. Each of us had
to dress against this rank and it wasn't always a pleasant experience for some of us.
Flatulence and tuba playing seem to go hand in hand as Porridge (Patrick Dean) took
up his nightly position next to a Royal Marine who seemed to have one Tuba too many!
Once in position it was where we stood for the entire finale and from where we marched
off to leave the esplanade and to proceed down to the first junction on the Royal Mile
and to the busses that would take us back to Redford.
Now in position the first tune we played was Caledonia, which involved a rather
long-winded military band intro after which the pipers would come in. To a piper
coming into a tune midway is sometimes a challenge as we, unlike our brass band colleagues,
do not have the score with us to give us a cue. Instead we relied on the conductor
to make a fist as a cue. This was great if you could see him but as nothing is absolute
and your position on the esplanade could differ from show to show he wasn't always
visible so we took our cue from the pipers who could see. We were especially thankful
during "Band of Brothers", the next number, for the conductor as the pipers had to
come in three times during the tune whilst the Tattoo honour guard from the Royal
Navy march between our ranks to the front of the Tattoo. To do this some of the
pipe bands had to sneak rather casually behind the brass bandsmen next to them to
make an aisle wide enough for the honour guard. Once they reached the front of the
Tattoo they halted presented arms and it was time for the National Anthem. Next came
"Auld Lang Syne" which involved the military bands playing the whole tune once and
the pipes and drums coming in for the repeat, which sped up in the second part and slowed right down at the end.
The pipes and drums then got a break as the massed military bands played the "Evening Hymn"
which was very beautiful and was a fantastic build up to the Lone Piper who struck in
on the dying note of the evening hymn. The tune he played is "Lest We Forget" composed
by Capt Samson (CO Army Bagpipe School) and is absolutely spine tingling because of its
obvious piobreachd origins.
The show then pretty much reaches its end as we play Scotland the Brave
after a rather stirring introduction about crags, crevices and all things "brave".
On the final note of Scotland the Brave the brass bands step off to "We're No Awa
Tae Bide Awa" and leave the esplanade and as soon as they finish the Massed Pipes
and Drums go out with "The Black Bear" and "Cock O the North".