Secret of success for Melbourne's Military Tattoo

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo marches into Melbourne next year, and Starts at 60 had a chance to speak with the man behind the military bands.

Producer Brigadier David Allfrey, MBE, told us the 2016 event will be a true spectacular, not to be missed: “It will be both entertaining and inspiring,” he said. “My aim is to create something people will remember for a generation”.

Preparation has already begun for the event. “The most difficult thing will be building the full-size replica of Edinburgh Castle,” said the Brigadier.  The 1:1 scale model will take up one end of the Etihad stadium and reach the roof.

Some 1200 personnel from the UK, Australia, New Zealand and around the world will come together for the three performances, plus several hundred production crew, a logistical feat in itself. But what’s truly staggering is the fact the various troupes (pardon the pun) don’t come together until just three days before opening night!

How on earth do they manage that?

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“It’s great fun, actually, and it relies on everyone doing exactly what they’ve been asked to do and very professionally, which is a very military thing,” said Brigadier Allfrey.


“I work with a team of remarkable individuals to make sure it will all fit together seamlessly. Then it’s a matter of making people do military drills, which is, after all a discipline and practice that was designed in Napoleonic times to move large volumes of troops in an orderly fashion.”

“We can confidently say each performance with run a few seconds either side, if not to the second, of 90 minutes.”

So will there be any surprises in Melbourne?

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“The balance I have to strike as a producer is the right blend of tradition and innovation. Australians have gathered around the television for years and will be expecting a very particular format: the massed drums, lone piper, the bagpipes – so the basic format will remain the same.

“But you must remember, most members of the armed services are young and have young tastes, this brings in new, sparkling elements.”

And how is it different seeing the Tattoo live compared to on TV?

“It’s fundamentally different,” says the Brigadier, who has been producing the Tattoo since 2011. “The Tattoo, above all, is a show; it’s an emotional experience. And part of that is created by the lights and the setting but the audience delivers at least half of the experience. There’s an old showbiz saying about the audience: it arrives as a stranger, make sure it leaves as a friend.”

Australia has a particularly strong affinity with the Tattoo, with some 10,000 Aussies travelling to the event in Edinburgh each year.

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Australia was represented for the first time at the 1955 Tattoo by the Pipe Band of the Cameron Highlanders of Western Australia. Since then, 23 different Australian bands and community groups have put in 41 appearances at the Tattoo in Edinburgh. The Rats of Tobruk Memorial Pipes & Drums from Melbourne lead the charge, having performed there six times.

Brigadier Allfrey acknowledged our connection to Scotland, pointing out there are an “awful lot of Scots in Australia”. He encourages people to wear their family tartan to the performances in Melbourne. “And even if you don’t have a family tartan, wear tartan anyway!”

Brigadier Allfrey

For the Brigadier, who is currently preparing for this year’s Tattoo in Edinburgh, a lot of hard work  culminates in a perfectly-timed, well-oiled performance come February. “There’s a golden rule among the armed forces: once a plan is moving, a commanding officer should only do one thing and that is to deploy reserves, either because you’re being beaten or to exploit your success.”

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2016 season comprises three Melbourne performances on February 12 & 13. Tickets go on sale at 9am tomorrow morning, May 25th, at and are sure to sell out quickly.

Tell us your memories of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Will you be there in February?