Updated: Aug 16
Alasdair Hutton OBE is the storyteller of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and has performed this duty for 27 years, welcoming audiences from all over the world to the castle esplanade each evening and becoming known as ‘The Voice of Edinburgh Castle’!
Prior to the final rehearsal on 1st August, I went along to ask him some questions about his role and the 2018 tattoo!
What are your top 3 military bands that have performed at the tattoo over the years?
The ones that are most memorable are The United States Army Band ‘Pershing’s Own’ and The Mehter Band from Turkey sticks in my mind. Another very strong band from another tattoo I did is The Central Band of the Russian Army. But of course, we have great bands too, for example as The Central Band of the Royal Air Force who are really splendid!
In 3 words how would you describe the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo?
Inspiring, Exciting and Thought-provoking.
As you are the script writer for the show, how long would it normally take to compile information and create a script for the show?
Normally, it takes about around 6 months. Information comes through in little pieces and then it speeds up sooner to the event. For the tattoo that commemorated The Queen’s accession to the throne, I started work on it about 15 or 16 months ahead, finding out who said what and when.
What have been your top three tattoos?
The early ones really for me, I think. The ones that stand out in my mind would be the very first one I did in 1992, which featured The Turkish Mehter Band who arte an extraordinary and colourful band.
1994, when the Egyptian Military Band came and they brought a golden chariot, that was incredible not just due to the props but their pipers had been taught to swagger, but swaggering to them was much more exaggerated than ours, so they swayed side to side!
The 1996 tattoo; where we commemorated the bi-centenary of Robert Burns’ death. That was memorable as I got a friend of mine in to read some poetry and it was a more complicated show, we had to find someone to try and pull a tail off a horse from the poem of Tam O’ Shanter!
How different is it to perform in a stadium when you take the production on tour to Australia and New Zealand?
In the big stadiums, there is usually a huge amount of more space. So, you have much more room to have displays by horses for examples or I suppose elephants or camels, but we have never had those! It’s definitely the extra space that’s the most different. You are although subject to of course the weather which can be worse than in Edinburgh sometimes, which you have to be ready for!
Do you get nervous before starting the show each evening in August?
Yes, apprehensive more than nervous, but it is right to be apprehensive before a show. If you are too confident that’s when you don’t check and make mistakes, that is when it begins to go downhill. When I used to be a military parachutist and I used to tell my men, that there was no shame in feeling nervous before a jump, because if they were nervous they would be more likely to be checking their kit more carefully and their mates kit more carefully to make sure there were no accidents, and the same applies to this.
Do you think you will ever get bored of seeing the Edinburgh Tattoo every day for a month every year?
No. It’s interesting I always seem to get a lift from the excitement of a live show, every night. Because it’s live there is always the element of uncertainty. You might think you have everything prepared, but you don’t know what might happen. And, there is the excitement of an audience responding well to a good show. That will always be exciting and huge fun!
Have you got a favourite piece of music you have heard being played at The Edinburgh Tattoo over the years?
Yes, I think my favourite over the years is The 79th Farewell to Gibraltar, written all the way back in 1848 and has stood the test of time. It can also be played both by Pipes and Drums and military bands, a wonderfully adaptable tune! I am also delighted that at this year’s tattoo, the Tri Service bands are playing ‘The Ride of The Valkyries’, which is the Regimental March Past of The Parachute Regiment, which of course is my old regiment!
With more and more military bands being amalgamated and disbanded alongside the severe budget cuts on Youth Music Services do you think this will affect the future of military bands and the tattoo?
I suppose, the answer is it will affect them but as the second world come forward, the Central and Eastern European countries are becoming more and more democracies, all their bands are opening up to us, in a way they never used to be, as they could not afford to send them. So I suppose that when one side goes down, the other side comes up. There is a whole plethora of bands from across the world, as you see when you come. This year there are bands from the Czech Republic, Mexico, Oman a choir from Malawi etc. What you lose on one, you win on another.
What does a normal day, during the summer run, consist of for you?
Trying to make sure I have a half decent sleep in the morning, trying to make little corrections and adjustments; I refine the script if it’s needed and that usually takes up the whole day. Of course, I do occasionally do other things but August is pretty much devoted to the tattoo. I start my warm up just after half past eight and the show starts at nine, so I always get to the castle just after six o’clock when it closes to the public. I like to be up here in plenty of time so I can relax and make sure I have everything just right for that night, such as, the right biography for the salute taker and all the people I will greet. This means that if there is something that I need to cover, it gives me time to do it!
When royalty, or special dignitaries are in attendance, does it make the evening a little more special?
Yes, it doesn’t make that much of a difference, for example Princess Royal is our patron, so you always have an instinctive feeling you want to do a good job for your patron. The Queen did come one night and that was very special! Members of The Royal Family do slip in but we don’t really create any special provision for them in terms of the show and we just hope they enjoy it as it is performed!
Which act are you most looking forward to this year?
It is quite a difficult question to answer, but as I am most heavily involved with in it, I am looking forward to the United States Air Force Honour Guard Drill Team as I have to narrate during it, so I have to know those guys very well, so I am looking forward to a good show from them. The Mexicans are off the wall and colourful! The drill display team is the one I am most looking forward to though, they are very good and exiting. We have rehearsed a lot together and so far it working fine!
Which act do you think the audience will enjoy the most?
I suspect they will probably like the Mexicans but we never really quite know until we put the show on tomorrow night to an audience for the preview night for reactions. It is very difficult, you think you know what the audience will like most until you hear them responding. I do suspect they will respond to the Mexicans as they are just so noisy and colourful! Some of the music is also familiar to them. The audience always like Top Secret, the Swiss drummers. The American Fifes and Drums, I suspect will be a little dry but they will appreciate their heritage very much. I do think they will go with the Mexicans though! I will be interested to see if I am right or wrong!
Interviewed by: Joe Elliott, Military Bands Everywhere
Videos of all of the bands at The 2018 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo can be viewed on our YouTube Channel and a photo gallery on this website!