For four glorious nights, 850 performers from seven countries delivered a dazzling spectacle against what is certain to have been the largest backdrop in Jamaica — stunning 300-ft reproduction of the much-storied Newcastle Training Camp. That was Jamaica Military Tattoo 2012, and for those who missed it, we will gleefully declare, "What a show!"
Yes, perhaps in the weeks leading up to the event, the full import of the tattoo may have been lost on some. After all, the last tattoo was 29 years ago. Still, by the end of the debut show on Thursday night, word spread that this was a must-do and by Friday, long lines snaked at Up Park Camp as many desperately angled to snatch the few remaining tickets.
The military tattoo evolved from the tradition of Dutch States Army garrison drummers being dispatched into towns at 9:30 each evening to instruct innkeepers to cease serving beer to the soldiers and "turn off the taps" — in Dutch, doe den tap toe. That was in the 1600s, during the Thirty Years' War. With time, it evolved into a more dramatic display of military arts and music, with perhaps the world's most famous tattoo now being hosted each year in Edinburgh.
There was high drama as the Jamaica Defence Force, the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Jamaica Fire Brigade used vignettes to show their mettle. From an air and sea rescue executed quite cleverly on land, to "Valour in Service", a poignant piece on the sacrifice of the men and women who serve, the two-hour show was an artful mix of humour and theatrics, with a little bit of Jerry Bruckheimer-style heroic staging for good measure.
But it was music that held pride of place at Tattoo. The Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines Portsmouth filled the arena in ways unimaginable with traditional military music, and the pipes and drums from the Canadian Army were distinctive and grand. There was soca and reggae by the Trinidad & Tobago Defence Force, jazz from the Bermuda Regiment, and, of course, the Massed Bands of the JDF, JCF and ISCF boasted a superior repertoire, from the majesty of Jamaica Land of Beauty to the playfulness of Sly Mongoose.
In truth, the evening's most stirring moment occurred when all the bands played Auld Lang Syne. As the crowd hummed and sang along, there was a palpable air of camaraderie that was both unexpected and tender. In that moment, we did indeed believe that ours was a nation, on a mission.