Malta, the Mediterranean meeting place of European, Middle Eastern and North African
cultures, has long been an island of mystery. From the strange elongated human skulls
found in prehistoric temples there to the unexplained disappearance of 30 students
exploring one of the island’s complexes of caves and tunnels, mysteries abound on
this ancient isle.
On our visit to take part in the 8th Malta Military Tattoo, we too encountered our
share of mystery on the historic island. How could the brown sauce at breakfast taste
of chocolate? How could a mobile phone dumped in a sewer still work? And how could
a Corps of 24 make an unseen arena entrance in pitch darkness with all the lights
These Maltese mysteries reach to far-off Franconia where the Directors of the Lowenbrau
Brewery can’t work out how one small bar in Malta could have smashed the whole island’s
six-month sales targets for their beer in four nights. Though that’s one mystery
that we could explain…
Having done our bit to help Peppi smash his sales targets the night before, we arrived
bright-eyed for the Tattoo practice on the Friday. Surrounded in the the Malta Fairs
and Conventions Centre by white
T-shirted ‘Pulizija’ from the local Police Band and Precision Drill Team, and haunted
by the distant but ever-present wail of bagpipes, we formed up ready for our ’30
minutes’ practice time in the arena.
After running through our routine once (14 minutes tops) we were ushered out and
the Pulizija Precision Drill Team took over. The Drum Major was sure we hadn’t given
a completely flawless performance. So out into the sunshine we went to practice stepping
off, staff halts, bugles up, bugles down, flutes up, flutes down, etc., etc.
Over an hour later we returned to the arena to find the Precision Drill Team still
in their ’30 minutes’ practice time - another Malta mystery. The afternoon session
saw selected members of the Corps practising the Massed Bands Entrance while the
‘un-selected’ ones watched from the cheap seats.
Everyone ‘did their own thing’ on Saturday - visiting Valletta, visiting St. Julian’s
Bay, visiting Peppi’s – but at some stage we all did a bit of last minute kit polishing
ready for our first performance that night.
Backstage at the arena that evening was a sea of uniforms. The English contingent
– the Cambridgeshire ACF Corps of Drums and us – in scarlet tunics, the Maltese Army
and Police in ‘Royal Marines’ style blues and white Wolseley pattern pith helmets,
Maltese Scouts in khaki with green berets, the Polish Armed Forces Band resplendent
in square topped Czapka caps, white Sam Browne style belts and spats, and eight pipe
bands in every form of Scottish dress known to man. A stirring sight!
After the Massed Bands introduction, playing Kenneth Alford’s Colonel Bogey and Abe
Holzmann’s Blaze Away, the Cambridgeshire ACF Corps of Drums were the first group
on. They gave a spirited performance of bugle and flute marches and a drum beating.
Then it was our turn.
We’d been assured that we’d enter in complete darkness, so the screen lifted and
we shuffled into our start position – in full view of the 2,000 strong audience in
the brightly lit arena! As the Drum Major made a mental note never to trust a lighting
guy again the first notes of our bugle fanfare introduction (Drum Major Joseph Winter’s
A short drum beating brought our bugles down and flutes up for an advance in slow
time to the Irish air King of the Fairies. We finished ‘the Fairies’ halted in the
centre of the arena before beginning the quick march Euterpe by S.R.Clark.
During Euterpe we split for a ‘bomb-burst’, re-forming and halting to play a Songs
of the First World War medley arranged by Laurie Johnson. This, and The Londoner
medley arranged by Jack Wallace that followed it, saw us circling the area in single
file in alternate directions and then re-forming.
Our allotted 12 minutes ended with The Jigs, arranged by Drum Major Reynold Harry
Trussler, played through once with solos alternating with the full Corps then with
the tempo steadily increasing to end in a blur of fingers and gasps of breath.
After a gratifying response from the audience we marched off to William Ward-Higgs’
Sussex by the Sea and the march adopted by The Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteer Corps
in 1880, Let the Hills Resound by Henry Brinley Richards
Being second on meant we could now enjoy watching the rest of the Tattoo on the backstage
screen. A local gymnastics display team was followed, after the interval, by the
eight pipe bands filling the arena with their horrible unique music.
The Malta Police Precision Drill Team then thrust, waved and threw fixed-bayonet
Lee Enfield 303s in an anxiety-making display followed by a more soothing performance
from the 57-strong Malta Police Force Band.
The General Jozef Wybicki Polish Armed Forces Band who’d been flown in that morning
strapped to the wings of an old Antonov biplane (allegedly), was followed by The
Armed Forces of Malta Band. We then formed up to follow the Police Precision Drill
Team on for the Grand Finale.
The singing of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and the Maltese National Anthem brought
a varied evening of military music and display to a close. After a short wait for
our bus to arrive, it couldn’t have been more than an hour late, we made it back
to Peppi’s for a restorative libation or three.
On the second evening our ‘media ops’ volunteer, Allison Thackery, was on hand with
her camera to take some group photos and record our performance in the arena. Those
of us who were veterans of the Corps of Drums Society tour of 2003 have some uncomfortable
memories of group photo taking on Malta, but this session was mercifully much shorter
and not in the full heat of the sun so the amount of grumbling in the ranks was much
We began our Sunday performance by playing our bugle fanfare at the halt as the entry
screen rose – no shuffling on ‘in complete darkness’ this time! It seemed to me that
this was our best run through the routine yet, although I’m sure when we see the
video there’ll be some points to raise the Drum Major’s blood pressure.
When the Tattoo ended and the public had left, we re-formed in the arena to receive
the organisers’ thanks and a presentation Malta Tattoo acrylic glass trophy. We marched
off, with our slouch hats at their jauntiest angle, playing The British Grenadiers.
With an 0630 start on the following morning to catch our Air Malta flight back, a
final group appearance at Peppi’s was scratched. Though a few hardy souls did their
final bit to smash the Lowenbrau sales targets.
And so before dawn, a little bleary-eyed, we said goodbye to the Island of Mystery.
This had been our first Tattoo appearance as The Cinque Ports R.V. Corps of Drums
and we’d all greatly appreciated the wonderful hospitality and backstage camaraderie
that the Malta Tattoo provided.