Monday, 22 February 2016

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

This was nothing to do with biking, but it was quite an event, so I will write about it anyway.

This past weekend Wellington has been host to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. It is the second time this grand show has been brought to Wellington. When it was here in 2000, I attended and loved it. This time however, I hummed and ha’ed about going. I wanted to, but John wasn’t interested in going, and anyway, it was very expensive, so I reluctantly decided not to go. Then when reports about it started showing up in the media, I so regretted my decision.

It was very lucky then, that a Scottish country dancing friend rang me on Saturday morning, and asked if I was interested in going to that evening’s show. A relative of hers was not able to go, so the ticket was going cheap. I was thrilled.

I took the train in, and was impressed with the way Metlink put on extra services to get people in and back out of the stadium. In 2000, there weren’t the extra carriages, and we were jammed in, having to stand in a tight squash. This time the extra carriages ensured that there were actually still spare seats on the way in; and on the way back, very few people had to stand.

The Wellington railway platforms end in ramps that go directly up onto the Stadium concourse, and it was interesting to see the concourse, on which we sometimes bike when it is completely empty, so alive with people heading to the stadium.

The ramps lead directly from the railway station to the stadium concourse

The normally empty concourse, full of people heading to the stadium

Inside the stadium, a very realistic replica of Edinburgh Castle had been built. The bands would be entering the showground through its gates. It was still light enough to be able to get a good shot of it.

Edinburgh Castle – it looked just like the real thing

The stadium is filling up

I had got there early, and with about fifteen minutes to go, a voice was warming up the crowd. Welcoming everyone, telling us about the sponsors (of course), and exhorting people to visit the UK, and Scotland in particular. Then, emphasizing what an international event this was, he asked, were there any people there from – the UK, Scotland, Wales, then New Zealand, South Island, North Island other than Wellington, and finally Wellington? The crowd got into it with great roars of approval.

As it grew dark, the show started with the castle being lit up

The grand entrance of the Celtic Massed Pipes and Drums

Looking very impressive

I thoroughly enjoyed the show – some acts more than others of course. I do love marching bands – to marching music, but when it comes to music from The Lord of the Rings, I’m not so sure … The military bands – this was a military tattoo after all – were fantastic. UK bands of course, Royal Marine Band, Royal Air Force Band, Welsh Guards Army Band, and the NZ Army, Navy and Air Force bands, and the Auckland Police Pipe Band. Also taking part were the Tongan and Fijian military bands, complete with dancers.

But the band that impressed me the most, with their split-second timing and their absolute precision, was the The King of Norway’s Guards Band and Drill Team. They were phenomenal. The Swiss band of drummers and flag twirlers were pretty special too.

Then there was the Lochiel Marching Drill Team – Wellington’s own – who were very impressive. Their precision and formations were amazing. I think that people sitting at the top of the stands would have had the best view to see the shapes and patterns of the formations.

There were Highland Dancers from Scotland, augmented by the best dancers from New Zealand, dancing to music provided by the pipe bands. No Scottish country dancing, unfortunately. It would have been great to see massed SCD sets, but maybe SCD is seen as the poor country cousin. There was a large group of Shetland fiddlers, complemented by the best of the NZ fiddlers. I know that some of the fiddlers who play for local SCD events were taking part, but though I had brought a small pair of binoculars, I did not spot anyone I knew.

There was a large contingent of Māori performers, which was impressive in its own way, but which didn’t have the precision of the military bands and marchers.

What I didn’t much like during the show was the solo and duet singing – hugely amplified, of course – as part of some of the military and Māori performances. Though backed by the Orpheus Choir, which sounded good, somehow it didn’t seem appropriate.

The grand finale involved everyone – something like 1200 performers – all massed on the field, marching, playing and singing. Fantastic. Then the audience was asked to stand for the British and New Zealand national anthems. A spine-tingling moment. And finally, the fireworks over the castle. What a great way to end a fabulous night.

The finale with over 1200 participants on the field

Fireworks over the castle

Then it was time to go home. Twenty thousand people all got up and wanted to get out at the same time. Of course that's impossible. Filing out one row at a time, as kids used to out of school assemblies, would be much more efficient. But people are such lemmings. Fortunately everyone was well behaved and nobody got pushed around.

Out on the concourse, heading out to the exit, it was a squish. It was intriguing to see the rhythmic swaying in unison of the crowd – left, right, left, right … Once on the outside concourse the crowd spread out, as people went to their various means of getting home – buses, trains, taxis or parked cars below – and it was possible to walk faster, to head towards the trains.

It was quite a night. The show had finished at about 10:45. Obviously way past some people’s bedtime, as I noticed several people either yawning their heads off or dozing on the train back to Johnsonville. I got home just on midnight.


  1. I've never had any personal interest in the Military Tattoo, but your description and photographs give a clear picture of what must have been a memorable night. My neighbours told me they enjoyed it too, though they said their six-week-old baby grandson was there as well, along with his parents, and the gunshots and fireworks were definitely too much for him! Actually I suspect they may have proved too much for me too, had I been there.

  2. We were there this year and it is really amazing! Thanks for the testimonial freshing up our memories ;)