a tradition


The Leith Community Tattoo is a relatively new addition in the long history of the festival, with the first event launching the 2002 festival the evening before gala day.

The Tattoo was the brainchild of Fred Frayling Kelly, leader of Leith Community Concert Band. The concert band were long time supporters and participants of Leith Festival, leading the pageant, and performing on gala day and during the festival week.

Leith Community Concert Band brought back the tradition of beating the retreat in 1997 on the Shore, and the first annual tattoo as part of Leith Festival incorporated the 6th Annual Beating of the retreat.

In the second year of the mini tattoo Fred said  “We felt that as Leith was a garrison town it would be nice to revive the old custom of beating the retreat and we saw the piazza at The Shore as an admirable point for this. It proved very successful last year.”

From that first event, the Tattoo became a fixture of Leith Festival, and has been a much loved and enjoyed event. From that first year of Launching the festival the tattoo has moved and found it’s place as the Festivals closing ceremony.

Over the years we have had a whole range of dancers and musicians perform from all over the world as part of the event, and we love to welcome any groups showcasing traditional and contemporary dances from different countries as well as military and community pipes and drums.

Nick Gardner chair of Leith Festival reminisces about some of his favourite performances

Leith Tattoo started off as the labour of love of the late Fred Frayling-Kelley. If Edinburgh could have a tattoo, why couldn’t Leith? And it’s always a great finale to round off Leith Festival week. 

One highlight was bringing a Belgian pipe band to Leith as part of the anniversary of World War I. And many years we have had a lone piper, performing in the gloaming from the battlements of the Malmaison Hotel.

The Leith Tattoo has moved to a mid afternoons slot, and like it’s older brother it has evolved over the years. There’s always some piping, but it has broadened out to feature such regulars as Pulse of the Place, the Mary Phelan School of Dance and Samsoir.

Every year there’s something different, and unlike the other tattoo, you don’t have to pay a penny to come along and it’s in Leith.