Tattoos are a popular form of family entertainment, encompassing both military bands and general spectacular precision displays. The most famous of these is the Edinburgh Military Tattoo which forms the highlight of the Edinburgh Festival. The programme lists 21 International Associates of Tattoo Organisers from Basel to Wonju, the USA to the Kremlin, and from Europe to Montecasino, Joburg, South Africa, where the SA Tattoo has now taken place for the past four years.
The traditional massed pipe-and-drum band, together with Highland and Irish dancers, military brass bands, choirs, the Johannesburg Youth Orchestra and the Harley Owners Group (HOGS) with their nine magnificent motorcycles thrilled their audience on Wednesday night for just over 100 minutes. No sooner had the stadium cleared than the rain which had been threatening all day began to fall. Someone’s prayers for the weather had been answered.
The Transvaal Scottish stands proud as one of the oldest regiments in South Africa and has a rich heritage dating back to 1902, when it was formed as the Transvaal Scottish Volunteer Regiment. During 1914, a second battalion was formed and the regiment went to war. In the Second World War, the regiment sent three battalions to war. They currently have three battalions and a reserve force unit. The Regimental Pipes and Drums is the current South African championships holder, as they have been for the past eight years. They often tour overseas, most recently at the 2012 Basel Tattoo. They are under some pressure to change their name to “something more relevant”. In September, Heritage Month, I ask what is “more relevant” than 110 years of history? Other bands making up the massed pipe-and-drum band were the Glen Allen Pipes and Drums, African Skye Pipe Band, Benoni MacTalla Pipe Band, SA Irish Regimental Pipes and Drums, Pretoria Caledonia Pipe Band, Sandton Scottish Pipe Band.
I like to attend with a friend who is himself a RSM. He mutters and explains the drills, pointing out which group is dressed in which way, a useful thing for those of us who can’t read military imagery, and he always has a riproaring good time – and this year was no exception. The massed pipe-and-drum band is particularly thrilling. This year the South African Military Health Service Band played, filling my guests, fellow members of St John (Ambulance) with particular pride, for that is where two of them completed their military service, and it is the unit with which St John is linked.
I always enjoy the Highland Dancers, and a new addition to the programme was the Irish Dancers with their precision dancing. The third dancing troupe was the Anavarata Dance Institute which performed a variety of Indian traditional and modern (Bollywood) dance styles.
The South African Army Pace Sticks Team put on a display with what looks like, and serves as, a pair of dividers from a school maths set. They measure the specific distances required for parade ground work. All these measurements are in inches. It is a British military tradition to use them. Sadly, pace sticks are actually as dull as a pair of dividers. They certainly lack the beauty of rifle drills of earlier years or the excitement of last year’s police work.
I “met” Haggis and Bong at the SA Tattoo in 2011 for the first time and was pleased to see them in the line-up again this year. They are a popular eight piece band which inclues bagpipes, steel drum kit, guitars, a trombone and a cello. They have made appearances at a variety of festivals such as OppiKoppie, Splashy Fen, Ramfest, Aardklop and Seasons Wither. Also featured were the Affie Girls Choir, Vaughan Gardiner and Siyasanga Cathren Papu. I know time was tight (I could watch the Tattoo for more hours than I can sit in the seats provided) but I did think that it would have been nice to see them a little more prominently featured.
I attended the Tattoo on Wednesday 5 September 2012, which is the 66th anniversary of the birth of Freddie Mercury of Queen fame. The South African Air Force Band played We are the Champions which had me feeling fairly emotional. They ended, appropriately with the Theme from Those magnificent men and their flying machines.
The unveiling of the huge South African flag and the singing of the National Anthem are special moments. During the unveiling of the flag all the cameras came out and people caught this moment for themselves.
International visitors were the Talentholdet Gym Team from Denmark. They were fabulous, performing an impressive skipping routine to roars of approval from the assembled crowd.
One of the lovely aspects of the SA Tattoo is the projection of images onto the back wall of the arena. I would like to see more made of this feature for the future, perhaps with the standards or colours of the different participating groups. The visual splendour of the SA Tattoo is exciting and seeing all 800 plus participants on parade at the end is very moving.
The Tattoo runs from 6 September to 9 September 2012. An additional show has been put in on 9 September to keep up with the demand for tickets. The SA Tattoo sells out every year.