Walled City Tattoo

Derry~Londonderry's shipbuilding heritage forms the basis of Yaron Engler's unorthodox introduction

The organisers of the Walled City Tattoo in Derry~Londonderry are at pains to broaden the appeal of this year's event, which takes place at Ebrington from August 27 – 30. And they have a charismatic composer at the helm to make sure that happens.

While traditionalists will be catered for with a wealth of renowned pipe and marching bands, highland dancers and finely pressed uniforms, Israeli composer Yaron Engler has been commissioned to provide an unorthodox introduction to the production, which will be repeated over four consecutive nights.

No stranger to the Maiden City, Engler worked closely with Hofesh Schecter on Political Mother, one of the highlights of the 2013 UK City of Culture celebrations. Similarly, Engler's untitled Walled City Tattoo piece – based on Derry's history as a port city and centre of shipbuilding production – involves volunteers of all ages and abilities from Derry and beyond, and is a visceral musical experience.

'It's amazing working with Yaron, because he's crazy and insane and brilliant in all the best ways,' enthuses Ryan Watt (pictured below right), a student and classical pianist from Strabane who volunteered to take part in the Tattoo after developing an interest in percussion. 'Hopefully Yaron's piece inspires people not to view the Tattoo as an uppity, ivory tower institution, but as something a bit more inclusive.'

'People will be surprised,' agrees Ronan McKee (below left), a drumming teacher and arts facilitator from Derry who plays, among other things, a Chinese splash cymbal in the production. 'It's a great way to start the show. A boat comes together from all corners of the arena and it all takes place over five minutes, with people battering barrels with iron rods, cutting things with grinders, drumming with all sorts of materials. It's fun.

'I saw the show last year, and bands likes the Top Secret Drum Corps were fantastic, but very formal. Yaron's piece is a bit more organic. There is a lot of structure, but ultimately it's about showing what life was like in a shipbuilding yard. It looks like chaos, but it's all planned chaos. To traditionalists I would say, keep an open mind. He's got a plan, our leader. We want to make it work for him.'


The line-up for the 2014 Walled City Tattoo also includes the Bready Ulster Scots Pipe Band, the Tyne and Wear Fire & Rescue Service Ceremonial Unit Pipe Band, the Crossed Swords Pipe Band and more of the same.

Such well drilled outfits are not to be scoffed at – they regularly pull in remarkable crowds at Tattoos in Edinburgh and elsewhere throughout the year, and will undoubtedly attract audiences to Ebrington from across the UK and Ireland. Ask Engler about them, however, and witness a man rarely silent clam up altogether.

Though he has brought his considerable improvisational and compositional talents to all sorts of community and educational productions across Europe – and has developed a reputation as an inspirational public speaker – Engler admits to having a limited understanding of the pipe and marching band traditions in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

'When I think about military bands, I think of snare and bass drums,' Engler muses. 'So when I was composing and visualising this piece, I decided not to have snare drums at all.' A devilish smile transforms his features. 'It will be the sound of shipbuilding and transportation, not the usual... Technically, it's going to be very complicated, but that's what excites me.'

In an attempt to encourage families to Ebrington come August 27, the Starbugs rhythmic comedy troupe will provide some light entertainment during the Tattoo, while the Imps motorcycle display team will add an element of the spectacular. The Londonderry Musical Society will also bring their considerable choral talents to bare on proceedings.

Engler acknowledges the desire among organisers to engage with new audiences in the Walled City Tattoo's second year, and hopes to bring something 'fresh and new' to the production himself.

'There are other bands doing traditional stuff, but there are others doing unusual things. I hope to contribute. If you think about how to set up a group of musicians, this is just wrong. A lot of the parts are really loud and it's difficult to hear everything, but this is the essence of music for me. It's almost a spiritual thing. I really believe in that. Political Mother was very similar. It's all about the connection.'

The Walled City Tattoo takes place in Ebrington, Derry~Londonderry from August 27 – 30.