Five years into the job, Brigadier David Allfrey MBE is well-accustomed to packing his tartan trousers for whirlwind world trips in search of acts for his famous Scottish show, The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
But he has a much bigger packing and logistical job ahead of him when he travels to Victoria’s capital city, Melbourne, next February to deliver what he said will be an authentic, grand version of “one of the biggest shows on earth."
There’s a giant replica Edinburgh Castle to ship in pieces, and an assortment of Shetland Islands fiddle players to recruit from the remote north of the British Isles.
Strategic planning is required to move members of three marching bands and six pipe and drum bands - with all their dress uniforms and instruments – from the UK to Australia.
Brig Allfrey said a large contingent of musical marching bands will also be selected from the Australian and New Zealand defence forces for the cast of about 1,200 performers from around the world who will entertain audiences at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium from February 12 to 13.
Following three performances of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Melbourne, a similar version of the Tattoo will travel to Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand.
65 Years In The Making
Brig Allfrey visited Melbourne recently to launch the Tattoo at Etihad Stadium at the Docklands and he wore his favourite suit in the official tartan of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
There is also an official Tattoo tweed among the merchandise sold at the world-famous event, which has been an integral part of the Scottish summer for the past 65 years.
This August, during the Edinburgh Festival, Brig Allfrey will take his usual position in the grounds of the ancient Edinburgh Castle to witness the 66th spectacle of military ceremony, music and entertainment traditionally held in front of the fortress.
“I tend to start by watching it at ground level. I talk to the acts before they go on, and I watch from the production box,” he said.
“I have a sneaky route to take so I can sit in the audience. I watch the show there to get a view of the bands, and to see the aircraft fly over. I also like to walk out at the end to get a sense of what the audience enjoyed.”
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo draws an outdoor audience of 220,000 and a television audience of over 100 million viewers around the world who see a 50-minute edited version of the 90-minute live show.
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This is the first time Brig Allfrey has taken the show on the road as its chief executive, artistic director and producer, but it has travelled to Australia and New Zealand in the past.
Wellington first hosted the event in 2000, and in 2005 and 2010 Australians embraced the chance to see The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo live with five sold-out performances in Sydney.
About 10,000 Australians visit Scotland to see the Tattoo in Edinburgh each year, and when Brig Allfrey was planning his first exported show as producer, he looked to Australia where over 1.5 million people claim Scottish descent.
This time Brig Allfrey, 55, considered Melbourne for the venue, a city he first visited in the 1970s before he returned to the UK to begin a 33-year military career with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.
“There were a number of cities in which we could have had this event and we did have a look at the best place to come,” he said.
“We have found Melbourne to be a welcoming and very interesting city – and it’s one of the great event cities in the world.”
Brig Allfrey said Melbourne has “changed beyond recognition” from when he arrived at its port on container ship SS Flinders Bay in 1977.
He worked as a barman in the southern suburb of Cheltenham for a year before heading off in his lime green Holden HD panel van for “a wonderful series of adventures”.
“I never imagined I would be back in this city many years later better dressed, much more polite and with a better haircut.”
Australia has been represented many times at The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo; in 1955 the Pipe Band of the Cameron Highlanders of Western Australia was the first band invited to play there.
Other groups to follow have included The Australian Federal Police Pipes and Drums, The Australian Defence Force Band and The Massed Commonwealth Highland Dancers.
As he approaches his fifth Tattoo in Edinburgh, Brig Allfrey said he is planning an “East meets West” theme and hinted there are always a few surprises.
In 2013 the New Zealand Army Band broke formation to dance to Psy’s Gangnam Style and last year there was more contemporary music, including Pharrell Williams’ infectious Happy, which had the cast and audience on the move and “loosening up for a minute or two”.
“We are keeping the base format because a lot of our customers like the format and it doesn’t change a great deal; there’s always a lone piper, Highland dancing, and massed pipe and drum marching bands,” Brig Allfrey said.
“But the score is different every single year because we commission new music and arrangements.”
“We have a slightly older audience but my particular passion is to encourage more young people to come as well. After all, the armed forces is full of young people with 23 the average demographic age.”
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Melbourne 2016
February 12 at 7pm, February 13 at 1pm and also at 7pm
Etihad Stadium, Docklands, Melbourne
Tickets go on sale on May 25, 2015 and travel packages are available through Flight Centre stores around Australia and online at www.flightcentre.com.au/tattoo