By: Shona Woodruff
This year, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo made its spectacular return to the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade with a new show titled Voices. The shows, performed over the Fringe Festival month of August, marked a celebration of the power of expression with a combination of music, dance and military precision from hundreds of performers from as far afield as Canada, USA, Mexico, Switzerland, New Zealand and Australia.
This event marked the culmination of months of practice and logistical organisation for our own school, Brisbane Boys’ College. Although located on the other side of the world, our school embodies the spirit of Scotland, not just in the foundations of our Presbyterian and Methodist Church organisation, but in the evocative sounds of our own Pipe Band where ‘our Hunting MacLean tartan speaks of our origin, the drum line our heartbeat, and the bagpipes our voice’. Alongside many international performers, our troupe of 32 school students, old boys and accompanying staff took up living quarters in the Edinburgh University, Pollock Halls of Residence. Located beside Arthur’s Seat, the volcanic formation framing Edinburgh, our boys worked off their jetlag by practising each afternoon under vast oak trees in the University grounds.
Two days later, we travelled to Dumbarton on the windy west coast to contest the Scottish Championships. Under the backdrop of the iconic Dumbarton Rock and on the banks of the River Clyde, 111 pipe bands in all shades of tartan competed for the top spots. Our Number One Pipe Band (Division 4A), secured a creditable second place against a combination of adult and schoolboy bands while our Number Two Pipe Band (Division 4B) were delighted to come away with a fifth place in this demanding competition. These results provided our team with a surge of self- belief as we moved into an exacting week of rehearsals back at the local Redford army barracks and up at the famous Edinburgh Castle; all conducted under the ever-watchful eye of Major Gordon Rowan who accepted nothing less than excellence with any aspect of drill, turnout, piping or drumming.
On the 5th of August, the Tattoo performances began. Beneath the impressive colossus of the atmospherically lit Edinburgh Castle, our pipers and drummers marched under the castle’s ancient portcullis, across the drawbridge and past a set of flaming braziers into the floodlit arena to perform in front of an international audience of 8,000 people. Massed Pipes and Drums, UK Military Bands, Tattoo Pipes and Drums, Fiddlers and Dancers were joined by performers from the New Zealand Army Band, the United States Army Field Band, the United States Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team, the Top Secret Drum Corps, Banda Monumental De Mexico and The Highland Divas to wow the cheering crowds. This date also coincided with the Princess Royal’s birthday. Alongside the Chief Executive, Major General Buster Howes, and HRH Private Secretary, Charles Davies, our Voices Massed Pipes and Drums wished her many happy returns by playing a massed happy birthday at the ramparts of the castle. We were also honoured that she took the time to speak with some of our students.
Involvement in key championships
In addition to the Tattoo shows, our involvement in key championships continued and our haul of silverware grew to a final of nine trophies. On the 13th of August, our pipe band, along with 145 bands from across the globe, competed for the top prize at the World Championships at Glasgow Green. 40,000 spectators made their way to Glasgow for the event including a bus full of our own loyal parent group sporting Hunting Maclean scarves, brollies, tailor-made Hunting Maclean pants and bright pink BBC Pipe Band caps.
This event marked the pinnacle of the pipe band competitions and was the culmination of months of dedicated practice from our boys under the indefatigable guidance of our brilliant director, Mr Stevie Stanley and his offsiders, Mr Liam Cox and Mr Aidan Scott. Our boys put on an impressive show and it was well worth the wait for our kilted staff, Mr Brett Jennings and Mr David Bell, who respectively collected trophies for our No 2 band who achieved 6th in the world and our No 1 band who were placed 3rd in the world. At the time of the trophy presentations, our boys had already returned to Edinburgh to play the first of two evening tattoo shows. These trophies were added to ones already won at the North Berwick Highland Games, on the 5th August, where both bands achieved 1st place in their respective grades and also won the drumming. Additionally, our No1 band secured 1st place in Division 4A and our No2 band secured 4th place in Division 4B at the Bridge of Allan Highland Games on the 6th August.
Special mention must be made of the contribution of our Pipe Major for the Worlds, Alisdair McLaren, who led our 4A band. Alisdair is an accomplished piper and a multiple world champion who was also Pipe Major of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Pipes and Drums at the Tattoo. We are grateful to our mature old boys: Tim Rush, David Jerrard and Jim MacDonnell and our recent old boys; Blaise Campbell, Jack Woodward, Patrick Roach, Jordan Smith and Fergus MacDonnell for their dedicated service to the band. Similarly, the contributions of our contingent of Scots PGC boys including School Captain Nic McGahan, Rory MacFarlane, Josh Hullock, Fraser Collins, and Samuel Bourke were exceptional. These boys, plus the 4B pipe band, were ably led by Pipe Band Director, Sandy Dalziel. This success is made all the more remarkable since the boys were able to maintain a full academic program, being taught during the day by school staff: Ms Woodruff and Messrs. Fisher, Bell and Jennings. We are immensely proud of each and every one of our boys for sustaining such a high level of performance and commitment and for representing the College so well on a global stage.
A great sense of pride
It was with a great sense of pride and elation to witness our boys perform their last night at the Tattoo. From the top of the castle ramparts, the Lone Piper stood in solitary spotlight as the sounds of Sleep Dearie Sleep carried on the wind to the hushed audiences below. At the top of the Royal Mile, hundreds of people lined the street to witness the last flourish of tartan as the final bands marched around the corner and disappeared into the night.
A spectacular 28 shows had finally come to an end. It is fitting to close with a quote from Walking on the Waves, a song performed by the band Skipinnish and sung by Cammie Barnes. This musical piece featured nightly throughout the Tattoo and captured the essence of this iconic cultural event:
‘And it’s a game of sweet surrender
When there’s nothing left to say
And there are moments to remember
Once these days are long away’
We, as one of many of the teams to proudly represent our school and country, will treasure our memories from being a part of the Tattoo and look forward to climbing the steps to the castle in full kilt regalia, pipes and drums in hand, to do it all again one day soon.