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The Tasmania Police Pipe Band and the Basel, Switzerland International Tattoo (July 2011)

Whilst most people have heard of Edinburgh in Scotland and would probably have seen the Edinburgh Tattoo on television at some time over the last 20 years, the second largest annual Tattoo is now the Basel Tattoo in Switzerland.  Other than the fact that it only runs for nine days, instead of some four weeks, it would probably be the largest.  You may ask, though, where is Basel? 

Basel is the third largest city in Switzerland, situated in the north on the border of France and Germany. The Rhine runs through the city at the point where the borders of the three countries intersect.

Preparation in Australia

The Tasmania Police Pipe Band were invited to perform at the Basel Tattoo in early 2010, which meant there was a little under 18 months to prepare for the travel, obtain and learn the music.  The preparation included travel to and from Basel for 30 people, 1,500 kilograms of freight, carnet documents for the passage of the freight, and so on (and on!).

Following the arrival in Hobart of the music in February/March 2011, there was significant pressure to ensure all musicians learned the music. The Band has previously played at 12 Tattoos since 2000, and has a reputation of being totally professional and arriving prepared, with the best musicians available. Under the guidance of James McAlpine (the Pipe Major/Musical Director) this proved to be the situation in Basel.

Arrival In Switzerland

The Band arrived in Frankfurt, Germany on Monday 11 July 2011, after 23 hours flying on Qantas.  Arrival early in the afternoon at the 5-star Hilton Basel Hotel, one of the best accommodation sites in the city, proved a welcome start to 14 days of hard work.

As the freight had arrived earlier and the advance party had moved the instruments and uniform boxes into the hotel, work commenced almost immediately with rehearsals in the park opposite the hotel for a major performance in Lucerne the following night.  This work was repeated the following day, drawing crowds of spectators interested in the unusual rhythmic tunes. 

Concert in Lucerne

The following day the band was bussed to Lucerne after a good night’s sleep. The Band arrived at what can only be described as a huge, state-of-the-art concert and conference complex on the lake-front, with a concert hall seating 1,800 on five levels.

The concert, involving the Australian Army Band of 70 musicians, the Bands of the Cold Stream Guards and Grenadier Guards and the Tasmania Police Pipe Band, was the introductory event for the Basel Tattoo to garner publicity and provide Lucerne with a taste of traditional music. Not that the Tattoo needed further publicity, as the whole event of 14 concerts (with an audience of 8,000) over nine days was sold out in January.  The Lucerne concert, under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel Graham Jones from the Cold Steam Guards, was described by James McAlpine as “magical, exhilarating and the highlight of his musical career”.

The Lucerne concert highlights were not over following the Band’s return to Basel, as the Bands appeared on the front page of Lucerne’s major newspaper the following morning. The paper applauded the concert and the four acts, the last being a combined session which brought the audience to a standing ovation.

The two eight-hour days of rehearsals quickly gave way to the dress rehearsal day. Rehearsals in the morning and two total run-throughs in the afternoon, before the sold out dress rehearsal at 9pm through until 11.30pm, set the tenor for the remainder of the Tattoo.

Tattoo Commences in Earnest

The highlight for the Band members in the performance with the Massed Pipes and Drums (200 musicians) was the fact that the Band had been placed as the centre file, with the Royal Scots Dragon Guards and Seventh Scottish Regiment Band either side.  These bands formed the solid core of the music and drill for the remainder of nine bands involved, with our additional available members filling vacant positions in other bands.

Over most of the following eight days members were required to be at the Tattoo venue for two performances each day.  On the final day the two performances were preceded by a four-kilometre street march in front of a crowd of more than 130,000 people.

Other Experiences

The Basel Tattoo experience was not only performing at the Tattoo, but allowed for other events, activities and associations to be made or renewed.  A number of the drummers took the opportunity to be tutored by the Swiss Army Band and the world renowned ‘Switzerland’s Top Secret Drummers’, which extended their knowledge and opened up ideas for the development of such a group in Tasmania.

A Normal Day

With the first concert commencing at 5.30 pm, Band members started leaving the hotel by tram at 3 pm with their instruments in hand.  Rehearsals commenced at 4 pm for the Band and then at 4.30 pm for the combined tune-up and rehearsal on the banks of the Rhine River: the energy that exudes from the event always drew significant crowds. However, for the Band officers and the Inspector, most days required their attendance, in uniform, at various civic and promotional events.

The finale saw all 1,000 performers on the concourse for a stunning finish to the event.  The last of the performers to leave the concourse, traditionally the massed pipes and drums, on most occasions were awarded standing ovations.

The Tasmania Police Pipe Band has a significant reputation interstate and overseas as a result of its professional image and performance skills, which are demanded by the Band leadership, and presented on every occasion it travels. The dedication of every member and experience achieved from these events are significant and cannot be achieved in any other forum in Tasmania.

Note: Click on thumbnail images to view larger (higher resolution) image. 

Postscript:  The Band is made up of approximately 30 members (depending on the situation of the volunteer members, most of whom are not members from the Police Service).  There are however a small number of uniformed Police and State Service members from various departments, all of who are unpaid for both their rehearsal and performance time.