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Jason Barrett

Chief Operating Officer, The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

August 2023

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is one of the most iconic and historic events in the Edinburgh Festival calendar. But this spectacle has nothing to do with body art — in military terms, a tattoo originally referred to the last duty call of the day, and is now used to describe ceremonical evening entertainment performed by musicians in the armed forces.

With a distinguished military career behind him, Jason moved from Colorado, USA to Edinburgh to take on the high- profile role of COO with The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

Hailing from Colorado, how did you come to be in Edinburgh?

My wife is from Linlithgow, so I’ve been visiting Scotland for the last 26 years. In 2005 I was selected to serve with the Royal Marines as an exchange officer and subsequently served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Brits. So, when I learned of the Tattoo position coming available, I put my hat in the ring. I think my family connection, time in the military – specifically familiarity with the British forces, coupled with a customer-facing commercial background put me in good stead for the position. I have a lot of history with and affection towards Scotland and was thrilled to get the job.


Tell us a little about what your role as Chief Operating Officer at the Edinburgh Tattoo involves?

Simply put, I ensure the left hand is speaking to the right hand. I help prioritise effort across the company and arbitrate on resource allocation. I also manage the risk register in the business and lead strategic planning. I’m the guy who oversees much of the budgetary decision making so I can be the bad guy at times. I say that partially in jest; we have a great team, and they work very hard and creatively to meet our strategic objectives under ever changing and challenging economic conditions.


What does the Edinburgh Tattoo mean to you?

It’s unlike anything in the world. This history, the tradition, the emotion. We who have the privilege to work at the Tattoo, hold a special responsibility to honour those who have worked and performed before us throughout our 72-year history. In a word – it’s special.


The Tattoo is hailed as ‘where tradition meets modernity’, can you tell us a little bit about this ethos?

You’re either moving forward or moving backward – there is no standing still. It’s a rewarding challenge to blend the old with the new. Maintaining our core—that which is recognisably Tattoo; the massed pipe and drums, the lone piper, our connection to the military bands. Whilst also evolving and advancing our offering. Implementing innovations in projection, lighting, and sound. Introducing new acts and stretching the boundaries. The best compliment we received during last year’s show was that it was the perfect blend of ‘fresh and familiar’.


2020 marked the Platinum Anniversary of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and 2021 the launch of a modernising brand direction of ‘Performance in a New Light’ – what does the future hold?

We will continue to challenge ourselves to innovate and bring more excitement and build on our immersive foundation as an entertainment company. The Tattoo will continue to elaborate on its creative framework as a cultural atmospheric spectacular whilst staying rooted to our traditional coalescence of massed pipes and drums, military musical precision, and Scottish traditional arts. Coupled with this is our desire to take the Tattoo on the road and explore foreign markets and conduct more overseas Tattoos. The Tattoo has gone abroad several times in its seven-decade history and now we’re exploring how we develop a touring proposition to make it more programmable and repeatable. We are also looking at how we take our talents as a time- tested ‘events company’ and share our expertise beyond the Tattoo.


“Simply put, I ensure the left hand is speaking to the right hand”


What can people expect from this year’s Edinburgh Tattoo?

This August, set against the spectacular backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo will welcome local and international audiences to its new show, ‘Stories’. Staged between 4-26 August, the show will be a celebration of sagas, myths, and legends, transporting audiences on a journey of ideas – from the earliest campfire stories through to the world stage.

This year The Tattoo Arena will host performers from Norway, The United States, Australia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Switzerland, alongside homegrown acts from across the UK and Ireland. As ever, the military will play a prominent role in the show, with the Royal Air Force the lead Service. Audiences will also be treated to the wild skirl of the Massed Pipes and Drums supported by the Tattoo Dancers and Fiddlers. Making their Tattoo debut on the Castle esplanade, The United States Air Force Band will wow the crowds with a freestyle musical performance depicting America’s great songbook, while the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force Steel Orchestra will bring a vibrant burst of colour and the excitement of their traditional art forms, including the limbo and fire dance.

Precision drill from the King’s Colour Squadron will feature familiar soundscapes from the world of gaming. Exploring the legends and traditions of Switzerland, The Swiss Armed Forces Central Band will also present an exhilarating drum corps talent, which is sure to send sparks flying. His Majesty the King’s Guard Band and Drill Team of Norway will also be back to stun crowds. Their appearance this August will tell their story as a Regiment, reprising their history and heritage to present day.

2023 marks the second year of the Tattoo’s bold new brand proposition, Performance in a New Light, which embraces military tradition and combines it with exciting new innovations and contemporary touches.


What is your favourite Edinburgh Tattoo memory and why?

I have two – being two years out of market and after many long months to bring the Tattoo back, I was walking up to the esplanade on one classically misty night to watch one of our last rehearsals, just as the massed pipes and drums crossed the drawbridge…I’m not ashamed to say when I heard the pipes against the misty early evening backdrop of the castle, I lost it.

Second, the CEO Buster Howes and I do ‘surprise and delights’ before each show where we wish people happy birthdays or happy anniversaries. On one evening, I wished a New Yorker a Happy 90th Birthday. His life-long dream was to see the Tattoo – he wept with joy when I surprised him.


“When I heard the pipes against the misty early evening backdrop of the castle, I lost it”


When you have friends visiting during festival season, what are your best insider tips and recommendations?

All the shows are wonderful – but the evening ones, with the lights and projection, are extra special.


Where are your favourite places to eat and drink in the city?

The Spence of course! Along with… Italian: Contini’s / French: Café Marlayne / Mexican: The Basement / Seafood: Fischers / Pub Food: Queen’s Arms, Sunday Roast / American: Salt Horse, best wings, and burgers.


If you had to choose one, would it be Old Town or New Town?

All of Edinburgh is beautiful. But if forced into a choice I’d say New Town. My wife likes Old Town and my daughter lives near Marchmont I just think the neighbourhoods in New Town are special – Dean Bridge, Stockbridge, etc. And as one can see from my dining preferences – they lean towards New Town.


Outside of the Edinburgh Tattoo, what other cultural highlights in Edinburgh would you recommend to visitors?

The history is so rich. Take time to tap into the history – the museums, the castle, the parks.


If you had to describe the Edinburgh Tattoo in one word, what would it be?



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