37 years at the Tattoo

PO2 Raef Wilson of the Stadacona Band of the Royal Canadian Navy has performed at the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo each year since 1981.
Photo: Ryan Melanson, Trident Staff

Stad Band member has long history with the Nova Scotia Tattoo

By Ryan Melanson,
Trident Staff

The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo has been a yearly attraction in Halifax for nearly 40 years, and PO2 Raef Wilson has been there almost every step of the way. The longtime member of the Stadacona Band has played his trumpet at the Tattoo for an impressive 37 years in a row, crossing paths with thousands of different performers along the way.

The Tattoo made its debut in the city in 1979, and PO2 Wilson made his first appearance in 1981 with the Land Forces Atlantic Area Band. He remembers an experience that was new and exciting as a 21-year-old university student, being paid to go to work downtown alongside other young musicians.

“The first show was quite spectacular, after going through all the rehearsals and then stepping out on the first night and seeing all those people,” he said.

“I’ve been going nonstop since then.”

The basic format of the show has gone largely unchanged over the years, but PO2 Wilson said the different talents brought in each year, with both military and civilian performers from all corners of the world having been featured, always keep things from getting stale.

“Seeing all the different acts is what I’ve really enjoyed over the years. That’s what keeps it fresh and gives us that little bit of culture and colour each year.”

As for one of his all-time favourites, he brought up the US Marine Corps Silent Drill Team, and how their calculated drill movements and precise handling of their rifles left the audience in awe during one of his early shows in the late 1980s.

“They were just an absolutely spectacular scene for the show, but there’s so been so many great acts, and from all over the world.”

When tallying up all the work put in over the years, PO2 Wilson will have spent a significant amount of time during his 42-year military career at the Tattoo, blocking off three and a half weeks every summer. He’s done and seen it all, and knows the format of the show inside and out, but said the little differences and getting to know new colleagues each year is always enjoyable, and with social media now keeping people in touch, friendships always get formed.

“There’s times where you’re tired at rehearsals or waiting behind the curtain for things to happen, but everyone’s always talking and laughing. It’s hard work but you make the most of it.”

And those who caught PO2 Wilson and his trumpet at the show this year may just have seen him on his final run. No decisions have been made yet, but he is approaching the end of his time in the CAF, and his next visit to the Tattoo may be, for the first time, as a spectator.

“I’ve never actually seen it from that side. We’ll have to wait and see what happens,” he said.