Press Releases

Joining cast of thousands

Kirsty Macnicol
The Southland Times
August 26, 1998

FROM the outside, the huge stone buildings, armed guards and spiked fences made the Redford Army Barracks in Scotland look like a prison. For members of the City of Invercargill Caledonian Pipe Band living there for a month, it would occasionally feel like it. KIRSTY MACNICOL went behind the scenes at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo .
THE soldier with the machine gun stepped aside as the bus pulled in;
regaining his post as the gates swung shut. A German Shepherd, described by his handler as "nae verra friendly" patrolled the perimeter fence.
It was a symbolic entry for the 26 musicians of the City of Invercargill
Caledonian Pipe Band and two administrators, who had no idea of what to expect other than it would be Army-style.
The band members were free to play tourists for the first couple of days and even stamped their mark on a nearby pub.
Reality set in on day three.
The Edinburgh Military Tattoo is the hallmark of the city's international festival. Two hundred thousand people flock to see it every year while 50 million more watch it on television. The 1998 cast was drawn from as far afield as Europe, Asia, Russia and New Zealand, and they had three days to put the show together.
Rehearsals started at 7am, going on until midnight.
It rained.
There was a lot of yelling going on.
Feet hurt. Really hurt.
At least one member wore his old drill shoes out before the official
performances started.
Another, with a blister the size of a 10c piece on her heel, found she
could wear nothing other than those drill shoes.
Each of the performing groups soon revealed its own identity.
The military bandsmen, all professional soldiers, had come from places such as Bosnia and Northern Ireland. Some had done the Tattoo 10 or 15 times before. It was little more than an annual fixture for them, a chance to put down arms and concentrate on their music for a month. And have the visiting bands on a bit.
The Fijians were gentle giants, huge rugby fans (not at all impressed by the All Blacks' lack of form during the month) and deeply religious.
Every morning they would worship and sing in tones that would rival a
cathedral choir.
Imps by name, imps by nature. The English motorcycle stunt team of six to 16-year-olds kept the bands on their toes.
"They had these cheeky wee grins on their faces so you knew they were up to something," piper Royden Brown said.
"They would line you up while you were tuning up and gun the motorbikes at you . . .
the paving around the back of the castle was black with rubber," pipe major David Pickett said.
Language barriers meant the Russian Navy Band kept to itself most of the time. Rumours were that they had not been paid in four months.
The rumours were fuelled by the fact they spent all day busking in the
Royal Mile, returning in time to perform again at night.
Opening night was a huge buzz for the Invercargill crew but as the days went on it became almost a chore as sightseeing had to be cut short for rehearsals and the main event.
However, the atmosphere each night made it all worthwhile.
Living conditions at the barracks were adequate. Eighteen men shared a dormitory while the women and those bearing rank were two or three to a room in the officers' quarters.
"The food was great, as long as you liked everything with beans and chips," Mr Pickett said.
As the end of the tattoo loomed, so did tales of hijinks that allegedly
plague the final show.
Hints were dropped, none too subtly, that the Spirit of a Nation banners adorning the Invercargill bagpipe drones were a likely booty.
Stories abounded of unattended drums being opened and weighed down and of pipers' plaids being tied together.
The Invercargill band took precautions _ no banners for the final show; hang on to your plaids. However, they were not averse to the idea of seeing if they could catch out others.
Drum major Neale Smith embroiled himself in a cunning plan with three
others to land a dead slow sign on the back of a colleague. Little did he know that the real plan was to hitch the sign on his back _ and it worked.
Piper Trevor Morton watched the charade.
"He was well and truly sucked in there."
Mr Smith narrowly avoided falling victim to another prank. It was decided to hide an alarm clock in the head of his mace. But the clock was too big.
"If you walk away and leave your gear you can expect something to happen to it. I thought it (the mace) was in safe hands. It wasn't until afterwards that I realised how unsafe those hands were," he said.
Other mischief was plain enough for those in the know to pick up but most likely went undetected by the crowds.
Water pistols appeared in the Scottish Country dancing, flour was sprinkled over kit and a blow-up sheep made a brief appearance on the parade ground.
Pranks aside, the band members had formed lasting friendships with the army bands and had learned a lot about the demands of being professional musicians, Mr Pickett said.
"We also taught them a trick or two. We've shown them what we can do and they've got a high regard for us. We rose to the challenge and set the band up well for a return visit _ whenever that might be," he said.

Tattoo facts

THE word tattoo comes from the closing time cry of innkeepers in the Low Countries in the 17th and 18th centuries. At closing times, the fifes and drums of the local regiment would march through the streets, their music signalling a return to quarters and the shout would go up "Doe den tap toe"
(turn off the taps). From this beginning a tattoo became a ceremonial
performance of military music by massed bands.
THE first Edinburgh Tattoo was performed in 1950 as the Army's contribution to the Edinburgh International Festival.
THE grandstands are made of more than 10,000m of steel tubing and 20,000 nuts and bolts.
The stands take three months to erect and two months to dismantle. Some 56km of cabling (about the distance from Invercargill to Gore) is needed.
MORE than 9 million people have attended the Tattoo. The annual audience is 200,000. About 70 percent of each audience is from outside Scotland, half of these are from overseas.
THE Tattoo has featured performers from more than 30 countries. The average number of participants is 550. The 1998 Tattoo featured almost 1000.
THE combined Invercargill and Dunedin display, Celebrating 150 Years, was the first pipe band solo act since 1987. Only one other New Zealand band had performed at the Tattoo.
NO Tattoo performance has ever been cancelled.


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