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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


The Kremlin Zoria
By Ian Mitchell
This month, from the 13th to the 16th at 20.00, Red Square will see one of the most spectacular entertainment events in its long and not always entertaining history. Vitaly Mironov and the Kremlin Zoria Trust will be bringing to Russia a concept which has become world-famous in Scotland, the international military Tattoo. Zoria is Russian for “tattoo”, and Mironov’s event will be as much Russian as Scottish. But its roots lie in the Highlands, where piping developed over centuries into an art-form which today thrills hundreds of thousands every year at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the ultimate inspiration for Mironov’s concept.

Mironov was responsible for taking the Central Band of the Russian Navy to Edinburgh in 1998 to perform at the Tattoo. He was astounded by the event, with its combination of local military pride and international cultural friendship. “Normally the two are in opposition,” he told Passport last month. “But in Scotland they have brought the two together. Russians would love something like this. They are very proud of their country and its military history, as the Scots are, but they also want to live in a world at peace, as the Scots do. I thought we needed to find a way of expressing that. The Zoria will do it.”

The origins of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo date back to 1947 in the dark days after World War II. That year, Sir John Falconer, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh (equivalent to Mayor), won a vote before the City Council proposing a world festival of music and drama which would be held in the city every August. This was to be staged in defiance of the spirit of the time.

The historian of the Tattoo, Roddy Martine, describes the context of the first festival in this way: “Post-war austerity meant rationing of almost everything, with that curious tinned meat called spam the staple diet. A Labour government under Clement Atlee was in power, embarking on an extensive programme to nationalize industry and reform society. Only shapeless utility garments were sold in the clothes shops. Yet [after the War] a general sense of deliverance prevailed.”

It was that sense of deliverance which brought forth the part-military, part-international spirit which has infused the Tattoo ever since. Though the shapeless utility garments have gone, the concept has survived. The irony is that that happened partly due to a shapeless utility garment which the Tattoo made even more famous than it already was; the kilt.

Highlanders were famously lithe, athletic people, partly because of the necessity of having to leap over rocks and rough ground, either in battle, when escaping with stolen goods and livestock, or when herding their cattle in steep mountain passes. They went about barefoot in all but the coldest weather and allowed themselves freedom of physical movement by wearing a garment which hung round them like a skirt. Many people in traditional societies have done the same. But it was the Highlanders who made their garment into a worldrenowned fashion item.

In Russia, when introduced to people as a Scot, I am constantly asked where my “yubka” (literally “skirt”) is. Before I am asked about whisky, and long before anyone expresses an interest in golf, shortbread, Ian Rankin or “Charlie Krasavitz” (Bonnie Prince Charlie), people generally want to know why I am not wearing a kilt. I reply that, rutted and potholed as many Russian roads and pavements are, they are not yet in the condition of the Highland cart-tracks and cattle droving roads which called forth skirted garments in pre-medieval times. I do not need to leap quite so athletically as I would have done if I had been driving fat cattle through hill and glen to the Tryst and fair at Falkirk.

Kilts are everywhere at the Tattoo, come rain or shine. This was driven home to me by the weather on the night I went to see the show this year. The Band of the Moscow Military Conservatoire was playing, and I saw members clustered around the doors of a pub in the Lawnmarket, not far from the Castle, shortly before the start, disconsolately watching the crowds shuffling up in raincoats, plastic cover-alls and other wet-weather gear. When I phoned the box-office to ask if the show would be cancelled because of the driving rain, a prim Edinburgh voice told me: “No performance of the Tattoo has ever been cancelled due to the weather. We just advise spectators to bring appropriate clothing.”

What do the words Tattoo, and Zoria, mean?

Traditionally, in most armies, reveille started the day and tattoo finished it. The British Army, especially after it had acquired Scottish regiments following the Union in 1707, adopted a practice of playing music between First Post and Last Post. When the troops were out of barracks enjoying themselves in the evenings, a bugler would blow First Post, which warned the soldiers that they should be back in barracks within half an hour, or face the consequences. Music would then be played until Last Post, the famous, rather sad-sounding bugle call which is well known to anyone who has ever spent time in a British or Commonwealth military formation.

At Last Post the taps on the public houses were shut. This practice was adopted during Marlborough’s wars against Louis XIV in the early eighteenth century, culminating in the battle of Blenheim. (Which, some years later, gave its name to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, the home donated by a grateful nation to the man who led the allied armies to victory, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough and ancestor of Winston Churchill.)

Blenheimbeng in Holland, the word for a shut tap was “tap toe” (pronounced “tup too”). This was shortened and anglicised to tattoo, and the practice of playing military music for a period in the evening became formalised as a Tattoo. Zoria is the Russian equivalent—hence the name of this festival.

The first Tattoo was a short demonstration of piping and Highland dancing on the esplanade outside Edinburgh Castle, with a few chairs provided for the spectators. The Army put it on partly in order to encourage recruiting. Little did anyone suspect that half a century later, the concept would be travelling all round the world. With Stalin in power in the Soviet Union at the time, and Andrei Zhdanov trying to impose complete cultural uniformity on a sixth of the world’s land area, the concept of a small Scottish military music demonstration being used as a model for public entertainment in Red Square would have seemed utterly absurd. But it has come to pass, thanks to half a century of unpredictable history and the effort and vision of Vitaly Mironov.

Mironov is a tall, well-spoken ex-history teacher who is alive to the nuances of period music and its production for the general public. He has the immense advantage of being assisted by Brigadier Melville Jameson who ran the Edinburgh Military Tattoo until last year. Between them, they have planned an event which will mix Scottish and other pipe bands, plus military music of a variety of sorts from all round the globe.

From Scotland come the Royal Scots Borderers, the Highlanders, the Black Watch and the Royal Air Force Pipes and Drums, amongst others. From outside Scotland will come the pipes and drums of the Cape Town Highlanders and the Transvaal Scottish regiments of the South African Army. From North America will come the Canadian Forces Pipes and Drums. From Australia, a strong contingent consisting of The Federal Police Pipes and Drums, the West Australian Police Pipes and Drums, the Rats of Tobruk Memorial Pipes and Drums, the South Australia Pipes and Drums and the Ipswich Thistle Pipes and Drums will jet in from the other side of the globe. The Temuka Pipe band will also travel all the way from New Zealand.

But the Zoria will not be festival of piping only. The Royal Danish Life Guards will be sending an orchestra and drill team, several Italian military ensembles will be in Red Square, as well as the Band of the German Federal Armed Forces. Finally, of course, there will be a large contingent—larger than from any other country—of Russian performers. The Kuban Cossack Choir will be there, as will the drill team of the President's Regiment, and its Cavalry Escort and Band. The Central Band of the Russian Ministry of Defence will perform, as will the massed bands of the Moscow military garrison.

There will be 1,000 performers and 7,000 spectators on each of the four nights permormancer; 13-16 September. This will not be last Zoria in Russia. Mironov plans to hold a similar event every year from now on, in different cities within the Federation. This one will be in Moscow; subsequent ones elsewhere.

Except the 28,000 fortunate Muscovites and visitors who will get seats for this year’s event, other will have to be content with television. Excellent coverage is anticipated, both inside Russia and throughout the world. But, however good television is, it is no substitute for the real thing—as long as it doesn’t rain.

Tickets cost between 200 and 1000 rubles and can be ordered online at  

The history of the Tattoo referred to above is Edinburgh Military Tattoo, by Roddy Martine (Foreword by HRH The Princess Royal), Publisher, Robert Hale, London, 2001, £15.99

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