2005 Edinburgh Military Tattoo - Page 3

The Practices

Monday morning, the first day of practice was exciting, confusing, exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time. At 6AM we awoke and began the task of discovering our "camos" which we were to wear for the rehearsals. As headgear we had decided to wear the baseball type caps the SANDF now sport which frankly made us look more like Cuban revolutionaries than anything else, they did however shield our soft South African skin from the harsh Scottish sunlight. Once suitably attired we headed off to breakfast which was organized by an outside contractor who used Czech female university students to dish up, suffice to say that most of the lads in the band were in love after the first breakfast (especially to the little lovely on the left hand side who had a serenity that was well ... very nice. Maria was her name ... (siiighh). The food was very good which was a relief and although fried breakfasts were the same everyday most of us varied by taking the cereal option on some days.

The parade ground in front of the infantry barracks was our next port of call. We assembled at the back of our barracks and marched up resplendent in our camos looking like a platoon of Che Guevara's and halted at the entrance to the parade ground. It was then for the first time that we saw all the bands we would be spending a month with here at the barracks and on the "holy ground" of the "esplanade" (its actually the car park) of Edinburgh castle. The pipe bands included:
  • The Black Watch
  • The Scots Guards
  • The Irish Guards
  • The Highlanders
  • The Kings Own Scottish Borderers
  • The Royal Highland Fusiliers
  • The Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders
  • The Royal Scots
  • The Royal Gurkha Rifles
  • The Scottish Universities Officer Training Corps
From Australia
  • The Rats of Tobruk Memorial Pipe Band
From New Zealand
  • The City of Wellington
And of course us
  • The South African IRISH Regiment

The first thing the pipe bands do during the rehearsals is a procedure called "proving the music" which involves the pipers of all the bands standing in a huge circle around the "Director of Music" and his helpers. The "sets" are then played, while the Director stands to one side with a view to seeing just what the quality is like and if any bands need to go away and learn the tunes. We had all heard horror stories about this and had heard that a Canadian band was taken aside a few years ago and given tuition by the Scots because they had arrived barely knowing the tunes.

"Right March on set please" was our cue and with two three beat rolls from the massed drums we were away. It went well and with a few re-starts to get everyone coming in together and to adjust tempo the bosses seemed pleased (and relieved). We were certainly relieved, as it's a little unnerving playing whilst these rather impressive officers and NCOs walk in front of you with very educated ears.

"Ok formation set please" heralded our first pass at the set that would take us into forming a huge anchor in commemoration of Nelsons victory at Trafalgar two hundred years ago which was the theme of this years tattoo. We did this a few more times than we did the march on set as there was some issues around breaks from hornpipes into jigs and also whether the slow air should be played once or twice and with or without seconds. Minor stuff and before long as before the bosses seemed satisfied. Now we had expected senior NCO`s doing the typical "have some halitosis" in your face, shout and scream type of management, so when Capt Samson (Director of Army Bagpipe Music) said it was the best he'd heard the relief was palpable.

This took us to lunch - yum Czech lovelies.

After that first lunch we were back on the parade ground where we were sorted into the positions we would occupy at the tattoo. The Irish were on the left flank one band in from the end, the Black Watch was on our left and the Highlanders on our right. Once this was all sorted out, it was our first attempt at the "March on Set". It was here whilst waiting for the command that we were introduced to certain of the British Pipe Majors who had the people skills of Attila the Hun. We watched in amazement as young squaddie pipers were verbally shredded and reduced to quivering wrecks unable to play a note. We all mentally said to ourselves "say that to me bru and ahm gonna geeve you a snot klap".

This all went pretty well and it didn't take long before they were happy with that and we were able to move on to the "Formation Set". In this set as the theme of the Tattoo was the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar we had to form a big esplanade sized anchor. We were surprised when we realized that we had a pivotal role in this as we along with our mates the Irish Guards were to form the inner curved surface on the blades of the anchor. It became obvious that what the organizers had envisaged was a double loop of Saffron - RIGHT AT THE FRONT OF THE TATTOO ... yee haa!

Our cue to march off came from the Tattoo narrator who had just practiced introducing the parade band by band and had introduced us as the "South African Irish Pipes and Drums" and dropped the "Regiment" bit. This annoyed Colonel Eddie Watson our contingent commander who promptly informed this man of the error of his ways; from that moment on we were the "South African IRISH Regiment" with the "IRISH" being a decibel higher than the rest.

The cue was " ... a nautical set starting with "The New Rigged Ship"" . Off we went with the Black Watch and with the Highlanders stalling a few bars so as to arrive after us at the bottom of the esplanade. It went very well and with a few takes that allowed people to line up with the right markers we had it, well we had it getting down there but getting back was a completely different experience. The mission was with the command "reform bands" we were to turn around and haul ass up the esplanade to get back to our drummers in time to all, last man included, step off to "Cock of the North". It sounds simple but the fact that unlike some of the other bands our pipers were now in a semi circle with the Pipe Major being in line with the last pipe laterally across the esplanade meant that at least 50% of our pipers had to go the wrong way before they could go back up to the drummers. This meant that the last piper had to set the pace and he had to move it. He also had to navigate through pipers from other bands "crossing" in front of him in directions and at speeds that made the All Black back line look positively "law abiding" by comparison. The first time we did this we had a secret weapon in the form of Rory "SQQUUEEAAKK" Bellingan who whilst not the longest legged piper (frankly other than some of the imports - we are all short) in the band had a turn of speed which combined with the build of a prop forward was able to bash through at least two famous highland regiments and drag the band back to the drummers in time for a cup of tea, a smoke, a scratch of ones nuts (those of us that have nuts) and a quick phone call home! Suffice to say that boy is quick.

There was still a problem ...

His stand in for the alternate nights is of a more "distracted" disposition (Editor's note: Also the author of this document!) and whilst he was keen had failed to absorb some of the urgency required in terms of getting back to the drummers which resulted in one take turning into a shambles for the Irish as half the band had to turn back halfway up the esplanade to march out.

"Ah can the last piper o the South African Irish gi us a wee turen o speed there please ... we have nae orl day tae get back to the drummers!" The piper in question, now smarting from this request which came out of the stands over the public address system found himself somewhat famous for being the first individual to be singled out thus far in the Tattoo. It didn't take long though for the message to sink in and this individual to adopt an attitude similar to a starved Ethiopian at a Southern Sun breakfast.

The problem resolved we were ready for our first steps on what for pipers and drummers is hallowed ground - the Esplanade at EDINBURGH CASTLE!!

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