Friday eventually arrived and by that time we had had enough of rehearsals and just wanted to get on with it.
After going through our uniform trials and tribulations we were ready at 15h00 when the buses arrived.
The buses formed up in a line on the parade ground and were surrounded by Police outriders who were
responsible for our security and would for the next month take us on a tour of Edinburgh albeit in the
guise of being unpredictable.
It was here that we were introduced to P4 which was the code for our bus and also to our co-travelers,
the "Rats of Tobruk Memorial Pipe Band" from Australia who would have to put up with us, not a good
time for them as the Springboks were seemingly invincible in the Tri-Nations at that point. The next
month would see them and the "City of Wellington" being reminded of the latest score at every possible
Our Royal Scot minders inspected the buses and then we were given permission to embark and we climbed
aboard. The trip to the castle took about half an hour and we discovered that as Scotland seemed for
the time we were there to be blessed with unbelievable weather that the bus trip in full kit could be
a very hot experience. Once on the Royal Mile we were welcomed by masses of tourists who were either
waiting to get into the Tattoo or were visiting some of the shops along the route, a great welcome
considering the fact that we were just sitting there looking out of the bus windows.
The buses were then shepherded unto the esplanade by Military Police men and women from all aspects
of the British services (Army, Navy, RAF) in a way that only the military can achieve. It's quite an
achievement to get that many buses in that small a space and to only allow the passengers to get off
once the last bus is inside the security cordon, it was literally a sea of buses.
The dress rehearsal went off pretty much without any real problem and gave us our first feel for
the spectacular that we were finally part of. It was also interesting to see how our Saffron kilts
and shawls stood out amongst the mass of red, black and blue of the Scottish bands. We were later to
discover that once it got dark and the floodlights hit us the Saffron went neon and we stood right out.
Once we had finished the dress rehearsal it was back to the preparation area in the castle to get
ready for that first march on. The sky darkened and we headed down to the gatehouse and drawbridge.
We were quite nervous but because the audience tonight were locals etc we were less nervous than we
were to be the next evening for our first "real" Tattoo.
The first sign that we were about to do our thing was when the narrator finishes his welcome speech with
"Welcome to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2005" and the fanfare trumpeters of the military bands begin
their fanfare. BOOM is the next thing we heard as the cannons up in the castle walls fired a volley.
When we had finished ducking and avoiding the falling wadding the first of the three beat rolls from
the drum corps started and we were off.
Now I've described the entrance into the gatehouse and our entry onto the esplanade before but
with an audience it was quite something else which I will describe for the Saturday show as that
was just awesome. The first show went well and the only wrinkle was that Johan our Drum Major lost
his belt and it fell onto the esplanade. This you would think wouldn't be a big problem but when
we counter marched we all marched past it on the floor which left the question in everyone's mind
….."Is it mine". The anxiety was further compounded when one of the Highlanders in the rank next
to us decided to kick the belt out of his way and it ended up wrapped around yours trulys' ankles
and nearly resulted in my getting to know the aggregate concentration of the esplanade better than most.
The next night the Saturday was probably the highlight of the Tattoo in terms of getting "rush"
out of the performance.
The moment when the first drum roll sounded until we finally left the esplanade was basically
a sensory overload. It starts before that because the narrator begins the evening by winding
the audience up by asking for people to shout in answer to the question "Is there anybody from
[Enter Country]?". The answer was usually an almighty roar and we were heartened to hear a
reasonable roar when South Africa was mentioned.
The second drum roll starts and we strike in our pipes and its off we go. The sound in the
gatehouse was awesome, so awesome that the Royal Signals troops responsible for the Tattoo
sound are standing in alcoves in the gatehouse covering their ears and looking very uncomfortable.
This is literally 20 paces and suddenly you are on the drawbridge and the roar of the crowd hits
you as do the lights which at a point make it seem as if you are having an out of body experience.
The next thing to hit you is the heat from the gas fired braziers that line the drawbridge and
it was with some concern that I looked over at the Black Watch to see just how close their feather
bonnets are getting to the flames. Very close but not enough to set anything alight thankfully.
The Drum Major of the Royal Highland Fusiliers was deliberately setting very short paces so that
the massed band doesn't spread out while waiting for the last pipers and the drum corps to exit
the gatehouse. This didn't however remove the temptation for the last bandsmen to want to run to
catch up but we had be warned against what was known as "the ministry of funny walks" so it was
a case of take your time. It was however a little unsettling to see your colleague twenty metres
ahead of you but as long as you got into position before you went from quick march to slow march it was ok.
Nerves, nerves, nerves a bundle of nerves would describe most of us but it hadn't reached its
height as whilst amongst the mass band in mass band formation there was a certain anonymity, the
formation however was a completely different situation. Once we had counter marched at the end
of the march on set and did our halt the crowd absolutely erupted and we were filled with a sense
of well………YYYAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH …combined with sheer terror. The applause died down and the narrator
began introducing the bands on parade. Of course this ended with …."from South Africa, the South
African Irish Regiment!!". Mayhem would describe the roar and it sounded to us, because we were
last, like all the applause was for us. YEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!
Once our euphoria started to subside we had to remember that the next instruction was to move
off into the formation set, being out of step in the Edinburgh Tattoo was pretty much a cardinal sin.
"The New Rigged Ship" was the end of the narration and we were off leaving our drummers behind us
and heading down the esplanade this time at a pretty normal quick march pace. Going in the anchor
formation was tricky as it was all about dressing so the thoughts going through your mind are of the
"I must remember to…." variety. It went smoothly and soon we were all reminding ourselves to make
the turn at the end of the march (we were marking time at this stage) and slamming our feet in to
face the Royal box. Relief swept over you when you had completed this without falling over and
without missing any parts of the music. What followed were a few bars in which you could basically
relax but already your mind was reminding you to cut out at the end of the first jig without leaving
air in your drones and resulting in a moan that would embarrass your band. Phew it went ok…now
remember to re-start at the next jig…phew once again…now to cut out properly …YEAH BABY!
Crowd erupts again, chest swells, you want to cry (wee girl's blouse!! - Ed) but there's no time
because "reform bands" is the next command and its tricky because "Meeting of the Waters" starts
on the right foot, which at that point is already moving up the esplanade, and navigating the crowd
of pipers in your path. Speed, a sense of speed, is the overriding feeling as you know you have to
get back to the drummers in time for the change of tune. Julian Pienaar, our bass drummer, is by
this time rolling his eyes and making funny faces as you bear down on him - it was a bit of a help
as you could tell if you were going to make it depending on his facial expression. He was later to
be the judge in an on going competition………did we beat the Black Watch and later….The Highlanders.
Juvenile but fun!
When we got to the drummers that night we knew it was nearly over and once we turned around it
was out and we could relax. It went well and soon we were heading down the esplanade to "Cock O
the North" and the crowd once again was enthusiastically showing their appreciation. We only got
to the second part and we are under the stands and chattering excitedly. Our first real Tattoo
and a job well done, up until this point, that is.