Beat the tattoo!

Fiona Hysalop and David Allfrey take a last look around before the Tattoo hosts 217,000 spectators.
Fiona Hysalop and David Allfrey take a last look around before the Tattoo hosts 217,000 spectators.

AS FESTIVAL frenzy builds in the capital a career soldier will tomorrow (Friday) make his debut as producer of the 62nd Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

He’s brigadier David Allfrey who takes over the reins of the army’s popular, annual contribution to the city’s international festival — which collectively attracts a global attendance and boosts the Scottish economy immeasurably.

Ahead of tomorrow’s first tattoo performance at the traditional and always-atmospheric castle, the sold out signs for the three-week run are prominent at the Market Street ticket office.

Returns only, if you are very, very lucky.

But for those 217,000 paying customers who have secured their esplanade places this year, there’s an additional bonus which may initially be overlooked in all the excitement as the massed pipes and drums open proceedings in traditional style by emerging with pipes skirling and drums beating, across the drawbridge amid swirling smoke and dramatic lighting.

Gone is the somewhat spartan, open-air seating of yesteryear — an unlikely link with the 1972 Berlin Olympics, though not many people knew that till recently — which has been expensively supplanted after 36 years (and some say. feelingly, not a moment too soon!), by a custom-built, state of the art ampitheatre. What’s been hailed as ‘‘a triumph of Scottish investment, enterprise and engineering’’ has now replaced the award-winning, if bum-numbing, tattoo grandstands which were based on the then-innovative Mero system used in Germany almost four decades ago.

But like its predecessor, the new £16 million seating will still only be a temporary structure for the duration of the annual entertainment and the subsequent sequence of privately-promoted Castle concerts which also exploits the unique setting of the castle rock.

After Scotland’s culture minister Fiona Hyslop was invited to check it out, she concluded the new grandstand “would further improve the experience for audiences”.

Brigadier Allfrey declared the new stands “a triumph of Scottish investment, enterprise and engineering”, adding that the contractors had “done a stunning job. We are so proud”.

The not-inconsiderable costs were shared by the Scottish government, Scottish Enterprise. Edinburgh council and the tattoo — which reported a net income last year of £7.96m. A major plus factor is that the time taken to build the stands has been dramatically reduced from three months to just 40 days. The de-rig similarly will be faster — only 37 days instead of the 10 weeks previously required.

n ELSEWHERE across the capital the fringe festival (until August 29) offers an estimated 32,000-plus performances as more than 2,000 shows from household names and hopefuls alike pop up in all sorts of unusual venues.

And the parallel arts festival from today until September 4 showcases some of the most intriguing modern and contemporary art in the world.

The official festival (until September 4) embraces Asian theatre, ballet, opera, classical music and dance to Edinburgh.

And the international book festival (which opens in the setting of Charlotte Square Gardens on Saturday week (until August 29) will barely have closed its 2011 chapter before Edinburgh’s multicultural Mela festival opens (September 2) at Leith Links.