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Getting all cultural

Posted by briandh on August 26, 2006

I live in Edinburgh, Scotland so have the benefit of the annual festival season around this time of year: The Official Festival, The Jazz Festival, The Festival Fringe, The Film Festival, The Military Tattoo and The Festival of Annoying People Stuck on Spikes, etc.

This year [pompous voice]my wife and I[/pompous voice] decided to break with our personal tradition and actually go to some shows and stuff during the festival.

[This post includes pictures from Mardi Gras, Jazz on A Summers Day, and the Festival Cavalced]

There is one slight problem, the Festival can quickly become quite expensive, especially for couples, and much worse for families I suppose. Add to this the fact that there is just soooo much to choose from. How do you know what to go for without feeling you are throwing you money away.

We solved this by:

  • going to some free shows, parades and exhibitions
  • concentrating on traditional classical music

So far we have been to the following:

  1. Mardi Gras – free
  2. Jazz on a Summers Day – free
  3. The Festival Cavalcade – free
  4. 60 Years of the Festival Photo Exhibition – free
  5. Some music recitals at St. Mary’s Cathedral – collection afterwards
  6. Beethoven Symphony No 6 ‘Pastoral’ at the Usher Hall – paid
  7. Strauss Josephslegende at the Usher Hall – paid
  8. Beethoven Symphony No 7 at the Usher Hall – paid

When I started writing this I thought I would try and say something about each of the above. It’s all getting a bit long – so I think I’ll break it up and limit this one to the first three. I’ll do the others in a later blog – stay tuned.
My wife has managed to slot in a couple of other things on her own – viewings of some Phoebe Anna Traquair murals.

We have thoroughly enjoyed all that we have done so far and I thought I’d share my thoughts on each of them.

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras Parade 1, Edinburgh 2006

The Mardi Gras Parade itself was a bit of a disappointment. When we went to the parade years ago there were a large number of floats with jazz bands and dancers and shows. It was very colourful and noisy, and fun. It went along Princes Street, up onto Lothian Road and then down Kings Stable Road ending in the Grassmarket.

This year it there were only two or three bands, it started half way up the Royal Mile, straight down Victoria Street and into the Grassmarket.

However, all was not lost. Once we followed them down into the Grassmarket we found that three stages had been set up and several excellent bands were alternating half hour sets for the rest of the afternoon. The only problem was picking where to stand, since we didn’t actually know any of the bands – not being big Jazz fans.

We ended up seeing three bands sets:

  • The Zyderythmics
  • Brass Impact
  • George Washing Machine

All of whom were excellent. After this we were getting a bit tired standing on the cobbles, so left for an early dinner at Frankenstein’s.

Jazz on a Summers Day

What a view

We really lucked out on this one.

This is a six hour free open air concert in the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens. The weather was wonderful (we got sunburned), we arrived just before they started to let people in, so we got an excellent seats, about four rows back near the center of the stage. I took the photo opposite from the back of the crowd – just to show off the fabulous setting.

An aside: What happens here is that the Ross Bandstand has a relatively small capacity, so seats are on a first-come-first-served basis. Everyone that doesn’t get in just sits around in the rest of the gardens- they can still hear, but don’t get much of a view.

Our compere for the day was George Washing Machine, a slightly mad Australian who kept things rolling along quite nicely as well as doing an excellent set to get things started and at least one (my memory is fading now) additional number later on.

There were far too many bands to mention them all – Zyderythmics and George Washing Machine from Mardi Gras were here again. In fact it just kept getting better and better. If you look at the picture opposite you will see that there is a large dance area down the front and it wasn’t too long before this was filled.

One strange thing was that one of the sponsors was a yogurt company (Muller I think) so they were giving away free yogurt – weird.

One of the highlights was the Ginger Pig Show Band that were almost but not quite top of the bill. Immediately following them were the New Zealand Army Band – an act borrowed from the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Half way through Ginger Pig my wife turned to me and asked “how on earth are a military band going to compete with this?”. We thought, the poor souls, they must have been brought in to help clear the crowds.

How wrong can you be.

New Zealand Army Brass Band

Sure enough, the New Zealanders march onto the dance area in typical military fashion. Then they break into Jazz numbers and get everyone in the crowd going crazy – just before they themselves go completely nuts. Imagine, if you can, these big New Zealand lads, in full dress uniforms, breaking into swan lake and highland dancing, then treating us to the traditional Haka.

These guys were good fun, and a friend who saw them at the tattoo said they were good fun there too.

The Festival Cavalcade

For many years we would make the effort to come down and see this but then we got out of the habit. They have changed the route a little so out old spot (in a car park looking down on them) is now useless.


The parade now comes all the way along Princes Street, up Lothian Road and finishes at the end of Castle Terrace.

We started off a little unlucky – our bus was late, and then, due to the traffic restrictions, only took us part way into town. Then out luck changed, we found a reasonably good spot on Castle Terrace and then the couple immediately in front of us walked away – leaving us right at the front of the barriers with a clear view.

The official count of the number of groups taking part was 86 but looking at the official site later we realized that we had missed some. It seems that not all of the floats made it as far as the end of the parade.

Those taking part range from Tattoo acts, fringe shows and local community, youth and charity groups. As you can see from the photo, the shows all turn up in costume, some of the floats are made up as mini-stages, they are all handing out fliers for their shows and everyone has a great time.

I was very trigger happy with this my camera at this (and at the Jazz on a Summers Day) – so there are lots more pictures on my Zooomr site.


One strange one – again from the Military Tattoo – was the “Swiss Top Secret Drum Regiment”. These guys were all in jet black uniforms, with black trimmed drums with black sashes on their drums – with the words “Top Secret” in big bold white letters on the sashes. Now, there are a few things wrong here to my mind – first “Drum” and “Top Secret” don’t exactly go together. Then marching along a street lined with thousands of people means you are not going to stay secret for very long.

Right – I’m going to leave off for now, I’ll try and write more on the rest of our Festival experiences when I get the chance. The rest wont actually take much more, not that they weren’t good, just that there are no pictures to break things up and jog my memory.

P.S. I made up the “The Festival of Annoying People Stuck on Spikes”.


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