Guest Post by Niall K – The Annual Edinburgh Festival 2012.

I have recently returned from a quick visit to Edinburgh, where I found myself transported to a world of colour, taste and sound. The annual Edinburgh festival was in full swing and I was among thousands of visitors and performers who have descended upon this historic, cultural and stunning city.  At this time of year the entire city is transformed into a canvas for international art and performance. The heart of the festival is the ancient royal mile which has been turned into an open air venue with street performers from North bridge to the Cathedral, and has successfully turned this historic street into a vibrant expression of international performing art. It provides one of the greatest backdrops you could imagine. It should be noted however, that the festival is not confined to the Old town, but is spread across the entire city. There are venues everywhere, in every imaginable place, from churches to tents set up in beautiful parks and there really is something for everyone, no matter what your style or taste is.

Edinburgh Festival

Edinburgh Festival

Dates

The festival is actually broken into two, and takes part over the entire month of August.  There is the Fringe festival which takes part from the 3rd to the 27th of August and the Edinburgh International festival which takes part from the 8th of August to the 2nd of September. Both of which have very different things to offer in terms of culture and entertainment.Unfortunately I was only there for the fringe, and had left before the International Festival kicked off, but looking at the brochure it looks as if I will soon be returning.

Programme Highlights

Edinburgh Festival Stage Performance

Edinburgh Festival Stage Performance

There really is something for everyone at the Festival, performances range from comedy to music and dance. Some of the highlights for me included, the wide range of fantastic stand up comedians. They are there at every level from beginners to the major names, however I feel it is better go see the comedians who are starting off, to give them some support and I haven’t been disappointed yet. In fact most of the major names we have today in comedy were discovered at the Edinburgh festival, so you never know who you will see.  There was also an amazing African dance troupe, who really were spell binding and gathered a huge crowed of enthusiastic onlookers, a beautiful electric string quartet and a stage version of Allo Allo, which even though was amateur performance still made people chuckle. One of the best amateur performances I enjoyed was the dramatic reading of some of the works of Edgar Allen Poe which was exceptionally well done, the performers were passionate and dramatic. When you take into account the historic backdrop of the ancient city we were in it almost transported you back to that time.  It really stood out and would highly recommend it. These were just my highlights, and there were many many more acts available.

Cost

There is a cover charge for most of the shows, but it is usually relatively low and in my opinion can be worth it.  However there is a lot of excellent free stuff on offer as well, and it pays to keep an eye out for the promoters who are handing out free tickets tickets and leaflets. Also another one of the great things I found about the festival was that if you were finding it difficult to make up your mind on which of the hundreds of performances to go to, the Royal Mile was dotted with small stages on which each act gets a chance to perform for a short time, which gives you the chance to get a taste for what is on offer.

Scottish Heritage

Even though the festival really offers a great taste of international culture, you are in the capital city of one of the proudest nations on earth, Scotland, and Scottish heritage is everywhere, which I absolutely loved. Everywhere you go, the smells and sounds of Scotland reverberate around the historic fabric of the city.  There are pipers at every corner blasting out traditional tunes, and street vendors selling traditional Scottish fare, the smells of which linger in the air and make you constantly hungry.  I have to say, sitting on the steps of an ancient cathedral while a piper blasts amazing grace really made me feel a little bit emotional,  you can almost sense the history of the city coming alive.

Military Tattoo

Military Tattoo

Military Tattoo

Above everything else at the festival, from the street performers, to the big name comedy acts, nothing comes close to the spectacle of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. If you are a fan of culture then this is a must see for you.  Held every year during the festival up on the castle esplanade, the tattoo is a display of music, dance and history performed by members of the armed forces from not the commonwealth and across the globe. It is set against the backdrop of the amazing, historic Edinburgh castle which plays a huge part in the performance. To me was the starring lady with the visual projections and light shows displayed on its historic walls during the show.  It also provides the backdrop for the fireworks displays.  Every year the Tattoo carries a different theme, so it changes every year.  On this occasion it was unsurprisingly, a tribute to the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee, but also charted Scotland’s contributions to the world, in this the year of creative Scotland.  The entire event kicked off with a fanfare from the castle ramparts, the roar of fighter jet flying over head and then the boom of the castles cannons, and finished with the thousands of spectators linking hands and singing Auld Lange Syne while fireworks rise from the castle walls, an amazing finale.

Edinburgh Castle -Gotham display

Edinburgh Castle -Gotham display

The highlights of the Tattoo for me were, the guards of King Harold V of Norway, who put on a spectacular display of military precision and choreography, it is something that always amazes me how they are able to move in such perfect harmony.  We were also treated to a display of amazing drumming from a Swiss military band who apparently were drumming to represent binary code, and Scotland’s contribution to technology, I don’t know alot about binary code but I know they were talented guys and left the audience spellbound.  The United States military band who played the theme tunes from famous super heroes shows was a lot of fun. They played such favourites as Batman, Superman and Banana Man all the while images of the shows flashed up on the castle walls, my favourite being Gotham City projection. I’m sure it was a first for Edinburgh castle!  I believe everyone’s favourite was the Australian military band and their rendition of Kylie Minnogue. quite a peculiar few moments,  but it sent such a great vibe across the stands, with everyone clapping and singing along.  Next it was the turn  of the British military bands and their tribute to the coronation, my favourite part of this spectacle was their rendition of one of my favorite pieces of music “Zadok the Priest” which was truly inspiring. They also played such traditional songs as Rule Britannia etc, and really put on a good show.

Next, Scottish pipers marched back into the arena, playing all the famous Scottish tunes and they really took over the whole place it was a true spectacle of pipes and drums, a very Scottish moment.  Many people dislike the bag pipe but I have a deep love for its sound, so I was in heaven.  All of this was then followed by the national anthem and then one of the most stunning fireworks displays that I have ever seen over the castle to the tune of “Diamonds are Forever”  in honour of the Diamond Jubilee.
After this the loan piper played high on the castle walls as a tribute to the fallen soldiers, a truly moving piece and the entire crowd was so silent. After this the event closed with Auld Lange Syne. and yet more fireworks.

Conclusion

I still get tingles when I remember that evening, every part of it was wonderfully put together and moving. It was a fantastic culture smash with the traditions of many countries all coming together to provide an inspiring evening of entertainment, which has left a lasting memory with me. So if you do visit Edinburgh during the month of August, make sure you secure your tickets to the Edinburgh Tattoo for an unforgettable evening, of entertainment, as well as enjoying the many many events and shows on display across this amazing city.  A trip to the Edinburgh festival is not something that will be regret.

I really hope that you have enjoyed reading this piece, as much as i have enjoyed writing it. To finish I will leave you with this most traditional of Scots poems, to give you a taste of what Scottish culture and tradition has to offer.

Address To A Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut ye up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they strech an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve,
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
‘Bethankit!’ hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bluidy flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An’ legs, an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o ‘fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

Robert Burns


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