Remembering the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2013

I wrote this article at the end of last year’s Tattoo at the Castle of Good Hope, but hadn’t put it up on my blog at the time. You can find some more stories and pictures of last year’s event here.

So, seeing that it is almost time for the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2014, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to reminisce nostalgically about last year’s spectacular event.

And if you happen to be in Cape Town between the 6th to the 8th of November 2014, go and book your tickets at Computicket!

This year, the organisers have put together a fabulous new website for the Tattoo. Check it out here: http://www.capetattoo.co.za/. There is a brilliant line-up of bands and performers, with some newcomers making their first appearance. I am definitely looking forward to this!

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An exciting Cape Town Military Tattoo 2013 ended, with the spectators on the stands joining arms, and singing along to the familiar strains of the massed pipes and drums playing the melancholy Auld Lang Syne:

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne…”

The Final Muster of all the participating acts of the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2013

The Final Muster of all the participating acts of the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2013

After the regimental flag-bearers had led the massed military bands off the arena, the massed pipes and drums departed to the fast-paced tune of Black Bear, which is traditionally played by a Scottish regiment returning to its barracks. The thump-and-rattle of drums and the tramp of boots slowly died away, as the drummers and pipers passed through the cobblestoned Kat archway. The audience gave the participants a final round of appreciative applause, before beginning to file out through the spike-studded Van der Stel Gate, the main entrance of the magnificent Castle of Good Hope in central Cape Town. Many were chatting excitedly about the spectacular performance they had just witnessed.

Gradually, the lights dimmed, and silence fell once more on the ancient walls of the Castle, which – as in previous years – had been the setting for the 9th annual Cape Town Military Tattoo. This display of military might and marvellous music was hosted at the Castle from Thursday, 31 October to Saturday 2 November 2013.

The theme of this year’s tattoo was “Peace keeping: Making South Africa a better place for all.”

To illustrate some of the activities engaged in by the military, a series of deployment acts was symbolically simulated during the show. The first of these involved a border patrol, which encountered a couple of men smuggling contraband through South Africa’s borders; they quickly ambushed and secured the smugglers, checked their identity documents, and arrested them. Next, a marine patrol came across two divers acting in a suspicious manner; on stopping and searching the pair, they found them to be in illegal possession of abalone – and the Flying Squad of the South African Police Services (SAPS) was called in to make the arrest!

A series of simulated deployment acts involving soldiers and the SAPS Flying Squad

A series of simulated deployment acts involving soldiers and the SAPS Flying Squad

The third scenario involved a group of angry citizens deciding to mete out mob justice on a local leader – fortunately, a SANDF patrol could intervene and avert a tragedy. The act concluded with the South African Military Health Services (SAMHS) simulating their role during Peace Operations. SAMHS do not only provide critical and full spectrum medical care to deployed soldiers but are also involved in Humanitarian and Relief Operations, as was demonstrated earlier this year during a combined exercise with the USA, Operation Shared Accord.

This year was the first time that the military bands of all four services participated: the South African Army Band Cape Town, the country’s oldest Regular Force band, under Assistant Director of Music Captain Vernon Michels (also the Director of Music of the Cape Town Military Tattoo); the popular South African Navy (SAN) Band under Director of Music Commander Kenny Leibbrandt; the versatile South African Air Force (SAAF) Band under Director of Music, Lieutenant Colonel Matthys Pienaar; and the SAMHS Band under Director of Music Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Seekola – the only military band in the country to have its own dedicated pipes and drums.

Massed military bands and pipes and drums

Massed military bands and pipes and drums

Each of these military bands regularly performs at official functions, military parades, memorial services, and ceremonial and state occasions; in addition, they also perform at musical festivals, open air concerts, and military tattoos, both within the country and overseas. Small groups within the SAAF Band – including a piano and trumpet ensemble, a woodwind quintet, a saxophone quartet, a jazz trio, among others – play at various official functions and formal dinners, according to demand. So too, do the various smaller ensembles of the SAN Band, such as the dance/stage band, the marimba group, and the chamber and brass groups. As a result of their versatility, these military bands have developed a wide-ranging musical repertoire: this includes not only traditional military music, but also classical, pop, avant-garde and big-band pieces, as well as some traditional African rhythms and ‘Proudly South African marches’ that distinguish our hugely talented South African military bands from overseas bands.

Out of the swirling mists emerge the Massed Pipes and Drums, led by Drum Major WO1 Johan le Roux

Out of the swirling mists emerge the Massed Pipes and Drums, led by Drum Major WO1 Johan le Roux

No Tattoo is complete without the unique sounds of the bagpipes and the thumping of drums, which cannot help but stir the emotions. This year, spectators at the Cape Town Military Tattoo saw performances by the Pipes and Drums of the Cape Field Artillery (CFA), under Pipe Major Andrew Imrie, also the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2013 Pipe Major, in their scarlet Royal Stewart tartan, the Drums and Pipes of the Cape Town Highlanders, under Pipe Major Charles Canning, in their distinctive Gordon tartan and green jackets, and the Pipes and Drums of the SAMHS, under Pipe Major Liam O’Flaherty, wearing the McKenzie tartan and maroon glengarries. WO1 Johan le Roux from the SAMHS Pipes and Drums was the Drum Major of this year’s Tattoo.

The signature act of the Cape Town Military Tattoo has always been Tchaikowsky’s famous 1812 Overture, and this year was no exception: the thunderous salvoes of the 25-pounder guns of the highly-skilled Saluting Troop of Cape Field Artillery, perfectly synchronised with the musical score, reverberated around the city centre.

The members of Cape Field Artillery’s Saluting Troop align the 25-pounder guns in front of the Castle in preparation for the 1812 Overture

The members of Cape Field Artillery’s Saluting Troop align the 25-pounder guns in front of the Castle in preparation for the 1812 Overture

Every year, a couple of local youth groups have an opportunity to display their talents at the Cape Town Military Tattoo. This year, it was the turn of the young musicians of the Silver Stars Christmas Band, made up of learners from primary and secondary schools in and around Elsies River. Formed fairly recently in 2011, the Silver Stars Christmas Band is a public initiative in a community disrupted by gangsterism and drugs. Their passion for their music has earned them appearances at the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town, as well as on SABC and CTV (Cape Town TV). Under the baton of conductor Nashwell Ruiters, their lovely music created a welcoming and relaxing atmosphere, which greeted spectators, as these were shown to their seats before the main show began.

The Cape Town Entertainers in their colourful minstrel costumes, twirling umbrellas and glittering hats

The Cape Town Entertainers in their colourful minstrel costumes, twirling umbrellas and glittering hats

The second local youth group were the Cape Town Entertainers, a minstrel entertainer group that forms part of the Midea Events Company, led by Mr Kader Miller. Consisting of learners from Harvester Primary School of Westridge in Mitchell’s Plain, the lively youngsters – all with painted faces and dressed in colourful minstrel costumes with glittering hats – made their way around the arena, twirling umbrellas and moving in and out of formations, to the fast-paced accompaniment of a small but energetic percussion and brass troupe, and a few shrill whistles! Local is lekker!

On Saturday afternoon, a matinee performance at the Castle of Good Hope provided another wonderful opportunity for several school groups from the Cape Flats to show off their diverse performing skills in front of an appreciative audience. Throughout the morning, the youngsters rehearsed their routines in the front arena of the Castle of Good Hope. Although it turned into a scorching hot day, they were filled with excited anticipation and seemingly boundless energy.

The Silver Stars Christmas Band provided a mellow musical introduction to the matinee, as the spectators quickly began to fill up the stands, despite the baking sun. Each of the participating groups was introduced by Captain (SAN) (Ret) Trunell Morom, who had taken over the microphone from Captain John Manning of the Cape Town Rifles (Dukes), the announcer during all the evening performances.

The drill squad of Elsies River High School won the overall highest points in their division at the recent Western Cape Schools Drill and Marching Championships

The drill squad of Elsies River High School won the overall highest points in their division at the recent Western Cape Schools Drill and Marching Championships

Dennegeur Primary School of Strandfontein and Elsies River High School, which had won the overall highest points in their division at the recent Western Cape Schools Drill and Marching Championship, impressed everyone with two very polished drill exhibitions. The lithe and athletic dancers of FEDANSA gave a breathtaking dancing display, smoothly incorporating Ballroom, Latin American and various other dance styles. The High Brass Field Band of Elsies River played a variety of melodies to showcase the unique field band sound, and the colourful minstrel display by the Cape Town Entertainers created an up-beat carnival atmosphere.

South African Air Force Band, led by Drum Major Flight Sergeant Musa Radebe

South African Air Force Band, led by Drum Major Flight Sergeant Musa Radebe

The youngsters were joined by the combined military bands from the four services, as well as the Pipes and Drums of CFA and of the SAMHS. The spectators – families, friends and visitors to the Castle – enthusiastically showed their appreciation for the excellent performances by vigorously applauding and cheering for each of the groups.

South African Navy Band, led by Drum Major Chief Petty Officer Nkululeko Magubane

South African Navy Band, led by Drum Major Chief Petty Officer Nkululeko Magubane

The Cape Town weather was rather variable during the week of the Tattoo: It was very hot on Monday, when the groups rehearsed their routines at the Castle; Tuesday was a perfect day, with clear blue skies and pleasantly warm temperatures, typical of early summer in the Mother City. By Wednesday afternoon, however, a soaking drizzle began to fall from the clouds that chased each other across the wind-blown skies; ever so often, clear blue patches and rainbows amidst the clouds seemed to promise respite from the drizzle. The fact that the spectators stayed for the entire dress rehearsal that evening, despite the intermittent showers of rain that saw some dashing to shelter underneath the roofed colonnade, was clearly testimony to the professionalism and passion of the performers, who played their hearts out, proving that they were dedicated and disciplined soldiers as well as musicians.

South African Medical Health Services Band with Pipes and Drums, led by Drum Major Staff Sergeant Daniel Lemos

South African Medical Health Services Band with Pipes and Drums, led by Drum Major Staff Sergeant Daniel Lemos

Unfortunately, Thursday must have been one of the wettest days in Cape Town since the end of winter. Nonetheless, the mood behind the scenes was upbeat and determined, in true military style, with everyone making the necessary preparations for what would be the thrilling Opening Night of the Tattoo.

Right up until the last minute, all systems were go. The ushers were ready to welcome the spectators, and the performers were warming up and tuning up their instruments. The function venue for the VIPs and invited guests had been beautifully decorated. At the various entrances and exits, security was on point to double-check tickets and access cards.

The SA Army Band Cape Town, led by Drum Major WO1 André van Schalkwyk

The SA Army Band Cape Town, led by Drum Major WO1 André van Schalkwyk

The static displays in front of the Castle were in place to greet visitors with an impressive display of military might – a Ratel from the Cape Town Highlanders, the Rooikat of Regiment Oranje Rivier, the SAMHS ambulance, and the Oerlikon 35mm twin-barrel quick-firing anti-aircraft cannon of Cape Garrison Artillery (CGA). CFA had neatly aligned their four big 25-pounder guns adjacent to the main path. The Computicket staff members in their caravan outside the Lion Gate were ready to assist any visitors who had not pre-booked tickets.

Thus, it was with a heavy heart that the executive committee decided to cancel Thursday night’s show. As determined and tough military men and women, they were fully prepared to soldier on despite the weather. But the arena was simply too waterlogged, the risk of damage to musical instruments was too high, and conditions for any spectators hardy enough to brave the rain would have been decidedly unpleasant.

The Fanfare Group, conducted by the Tattoo Director of Music, Captain Vernon Michels, and consisting of band members from each of the military bands

The Fanfare Group, conducted by the Tattoo Director of Music, Captain Vernon Michels, and consisting of band members from each of the military bands

Thankfully, the Cape Town weather played along wonderfully on Friday and Saturday, and audiences were treated to a slick, polished, well-run show. The participants were praised for the excellent quality of their music and the high standards of their performance, and the Executive Committee declared the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2013 a success.

Massed military bands and pipes and drums

Massed military bands and pipes and drums

Putting together a Military Tattoo is not easy, considering that the participants are not professional actors but soldiers, and that there is a restricted budget with restricted resources. Without the support of the City of Cape Town, Chrysalis Academy and the dedication of the Reserves (who often went beyond the call of duty), the Regulars and the loyal individual civilian supporters and contributors, it would not have been possible. We salute you.

And until we meet again at next year’s Cape Town Military Tattoo 2014, let not old acquaintance be forgot!

Enjoy the slideshow!

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