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Beating the drum for Switzerland

Top Secret Drummers practising ahead of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo

A former carnival band is set to hit the big time on August 1, becoming the first Swiss drumming outfit to appear at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Scotland.

The Top Secret Drum Corps, formed 11 years ago, has its roots in the world-famous Basel spring carnival or “Fasnacht”.

The group developed a sophisticated acrobatic act, meeting with critical acclaim at home and abroad, and was finally scooped up by Edinburgh talent spotters at a military display in Canada two years ago.

For hundreds of years, Swiss mercenaries used drums to muster the troops to battle.

Drums remain the hallmark of the Basel “Fasnacht”, the largest spring parade in Switzerland, with some 20,000 active participants.

This is where Top Secret first cut their teeth, 11 years ago.

Over the years, their performance has been tweaked to encompass elements of Scottish and North American drumming, as well as complicated choreography.

The performers juggle their drumsticks, catch them behind their backs and play each other’s drums in a show that culminates in a thrilling, high-speed drumstick “sword fight”.

Honing the act

The organisers of the Edinburgh Tattoo told Top Secret in 2001 that they were keen to bring the group to Scotland, as long as the band could be enlarged, as the huge esplanade would dwarf the ten-man set-up.

Top Secret grew to 25, and now includes 12 drummers, six base drummers and seven “colour guards”- the flag bearers.

They realised they still needed to refine their act, to meet the high standards set at Edinburgh, so they called in some professional help.

John Bosworth from the US Air Force Band in Washington DC was flown in a month ago to help put the flags, bass drums and snares together.

He was anxious to improve on the best parts of the Top Secret routine, while adding some ideas of his own.

John says his biggest challenge was teaching the band members to march sideways while drumming: “It takes a little bit of time over and over and over again until they really get it into their brains –once they get it, then it’s OK.”

Arduous training

Over the past months, the band has been practising three to four times per week, for several hours at a time.

Bandleader Erik Julliard says it’s been a long slog: “The hardest thing about getting ready for the Tattoo is that we all have full time jobs, and have to practise after a hard day’s work.”

John Bosworth is full of praise for his protégés: “These guys are so dedicated. I wish I could take some of them home with me – they would have a great future as professional drummers.”

But Julliard thinks it unlikely that any of his colleagues would abandon their professional careers for the itinerant life of poorly paid musicians.


The Edinburgh Tattoo has been running for 50 years and is the biggest event of its kind, attracting thousands of spectators and an estimated 100 million television viewers worldwide.

It’s a colourful kaleidoscope of music, dance and pageantry, played out on a vast esplanade against the dramatic backdrop of Edinburgh’s medieval fortress.

The Top Secret band members, some of them bearing scarlet Swiss national flags, are sure to cut a dash in their dark grey cavalry style outfits, and black feathered hats.

But their great fear of falling to pieces on the day prompted them to hire a relaxation specialist for lessons on dealing with stage nerves.

Erik Julliard seems to be taking it all in his stride: “There are only 9,000 people in the audience. Everybody should just go out and do their job, and not think about how many are watching on TV. It doesn’t matter. It’s just great to play in the esplanade.”

John Bosworth and his US Air Force Band are regular performers at the Scottish event. He says, “There’s not a band in the world that would not like to get an invitation to the Tattoo.

It’s a real honour to be able to represent Basel and Switzerland in Edinburgh.”

swissinfo, Julie Hunt

The 54th annual Edinburgh Military Tattoo runs from August 1-23, 2003.
It attracts thousands of spectators and about 100 million television viewers globally.
The word “tattoo” comes from the closing time cry in the inns of the low countries during the 17th and 18th centuries – “Doe den tap toe” (“turn off the taps”).
Top Secret started out as a Carnival Band 11 years ago, and have doubled in number since then.
They are the first Swiss group to appear at the Tattoo.

On Switzerland’s National Day – August 1 – a group of drummers from Basel will become the first representatives of their country to grace the stage of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the biggest event of its kind in the world.

From their humble beginnings as a carnival act, the Top Secret Drummers have gone on to become one of the most sought-after bands of their genre.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR