Carnival of Light (lost experimental Beatles song; 1967)

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TheBeatlesCarnivalOfLight-MillionVoltFlyer.jpg

Advertisement for The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave (January 28th).

Status: Lost

Carnival of Light is the name given to an experimental piece of music Paul McCartney was commissioned to produce for a Carnival of Light rave (a rave featuring music and light show), A Million Volt Light and Sound Rave, held over two nights at the Roundhouse theatre on January 28th and again on February 4th, 1967[1]. Since it's only public airing in 1967, the recording has not surfaced on bootleg nor official Beatles release.

The Roundhouse, New Year's Eve, 1966. The large projection screens and lighting would have been similar to the A Million Volt Light and Sound Rave held a few weeks later

History[edit | edit source]

The song's origins can be traced back to December 1966. Designer David Vaughan, from pioneering pop art collective Binder, Edwards & Vaughan, asked McCartney if he would be willing to submit a track for the upcoming A Million Volt Light and Sound Rave art festival at the Roadhouse in London on 28th January and 4th February 1967. McCartney, at this time, was becoming involved in the London underground art scene through his friend Barry Miles, who owned the Indica Gallery and helped start the independent scene newspaper International Times.

Much to Vaughn's delight, McCartney agreed, and the track was recorded the very next month. Typically, these events would feature experimental audio, light shows, projections and live music. The event was organized, in part, by Vaughan himself and would feature work by Unit Delta Plus (an offshoot of the BBC's Radiophonic workshop) and Binder, Edwards & Vaughan.

Recording and content[edit | edit source]

Recording[edit | edit source]

The recording session took place during the sessions of The Beatles' eighth studio album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on 5th January 1967 at Studio Two, EMI Studios. After recording vocal takes for "Penny Lane", the band began work on "Carnival of Light".[2] George Martin was the Producer of the sessions and Geoff Emerick, the recording engineer.

"We were set up in the studio and would just go in every day and record, I said to the guys, this is a bit indulgent, but would you mind giving me 10 minutes? All I want you to do is just wander round all the stuff and bang it, shout, play it. Then we put a bit of echo on it. It's very free." - Sir Paul McCartney, 2008.[3][4]

There was only one take of the experiential piece, which was recorded with overdubs on 4-track tape. It was given no official title, listed as "Untitled" on EMI’s recording logs. The piece later become known as "Carnival of Light" after its existence became more publicly known with the publishing of Mark Lewisohn's The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions book in 1988.

It was a bit of nonsense, really, but everyone had fun doing it. Whenever The Beatles tried something really outrageous, George Martin would roll his eyes and mutter a clipped "Oh my God" under his breath. Looking back, I guess that everyone was tripping his brains out that night, but we didn't know it then. When John started shouting "Barcelona" repeatedly in one of his Goon-like voices, Phil and I were doubled over in laughter. - Geoff Emerick (Beatles recording engineer)[5]

"When they had finished George Martin said to me, ‘This is ridiculous, we’ve got to get our teeth into something more constructive." - Geoff Emerick (Beatles recording engineer)[6]

Content[edit | edit source]

Beatles expert Mark Lewisohn (who was personally allowed to listen to the song in 1987, while compiling his book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions). According to Lewisohn, the piece's length was 13 minutes and 48 seconds. He also listed the multi-track tape contents as the following:

Track No. Content
Track one "distorted, hypnotic drum and organ sounds"
Track two "a distorted lead guitar"
Track three "the sounds of a church organ, various effects (water gargling was one) and voices ... perhaps most intimidating of all, John and Paul screaming dementedly and bawling aloud random phrases like 'Are you alright?' and 'Barcelona!'".
Track four "various indescribable sound effects with heaps of echo and manic tambourine"

Others who have heard the song, such as McCartney's biographer Barry Miles added in his 1997 publication Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now that the song had:

"...no rhythm, although a beat is sometimes established for a few bars by the percussion or a rhythmic pounding piano", and that it also had "no melody, although snatches of a tune sometimes threaten to break through". The base track consists of an organ playing bass notes and drums and was recorded in fast motion, as to create a slower, more droning sound when played in real time. The song's instruments make heavy use of reverb, and it contains many vocal samples from Lennon and McCartney, from audible samples such as Lennon shouting "Electricity!", to distorted gasps, coughs and the final echo-soaked sample (heard just before the song's end) of McCartney asking "Can we hear it back now?" - Barry Miles.

Other instruments heard throughout the track include bursts of guitar feedback, gushy cinema organ, and fragments of clinking pub piano. Miles also compared it to the Frank Zappa song "The Return of the Son of the Monster Magnet", the closing song from the album Freak Out! (McCartney himself said that Freak Out was an influence on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band).

McCartney himself described, in a November 2008 interview, the song's production, saying:

"I said 'all I want you to do is just wander around all the stuff, bang it, shout, play it, it doesn't need to make any sense. Hit a drum, then wander onto the piano, hit a few notes and just wander around'" - Sir Paul McCartney

Mixing[edit | edit source]

EMI logs also show that a mono mix was made at the end of the session. This mono mix was then given by McCartney to Binder, Edwards and Vaughan on a reel of quarter-inch tape. Barry Miles described the recording as being in "stereo". Although no records of a stereo mix session were found by Lewisohn, it is possible that the recording was remixed after the band had broken up.

Premiere at A Million Volt Light and Sound Rave[edit | edit source]

The piece was played at the Million Volt Light and Sound Rave at the Roundhouse Theatre. According to contemporary reports, the event featured visual displays from 20 projectors onto the venues 60ft high screens. The recording was played several times over the two nights of the rave. According to Dudley Edwards of Binder, Edwards & Vaughan, the "Carnival of Light" tape was played along with tapes from Unit Delta Plus, an experimental music offshoot of the BBCs Radiophonic workshop.[7] [8]

After the event had finished, the event's lighting designer Ray Anderson, reportedly took the tape of "Carnival of Light" with him back to the U.S.[2] Anderson died in 2016 and never publicly comment on the tape or whether he was still in possession of it.

Reports of "Carnival of Light" from those at the event[edit | edit source]

"So all the music was live, apart from the f***ing [sic] tapes that Paul McCartney did. You know, where he thought he'd do something without words, that was very mysterious ... I don't think it was up to much." - David Vaughan

Retrospective reports of "Carnival of Light" from those involved in the event have been negative or dismissive. Brian Hodgson from Unit Delta Plus described the track as "all rather a mess ... There seemed to be no coherence to what was on the tape.". Daevid Allen, from the band Soft Machine (who performed at the event), recalled that he: "... dimly remember the sound collage because it was not particularly memorable. He (McCartney) had obviously improved a bit by the time Sgt. Pepper was made."

Release Status[edit | edit source]

According to Geoff Emerick's book Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles, Lennon's calls of "Barcelona" and other sound bites from the session were later reused in 1968 for the White Album track "Revolution No. 9".[5] There has been no official confirmation of from any of the surviving members nor any of the few that have heard "Carnival of Light".

McCartney tried to have the track released in 1996, intending to include it on their compilation record The Beatles Anthology 2, although George Harrison voted against it, stating that he "didn't like avant-garde music", and as a result, the track never made it to the compilation. Although the song was mixed into mono in 1967, Barry Miles described the version he heard as being in full stereo. It is possible that engineer Geoff Emerick remixed the song in stereo for Anthology 2 and Miles heard the vetoed mix.

In the same year, McCartney also claimed that he had been working on a photo collage film for which he intended to use Carnival of Light in the soundtrack, although the project has never been seen, and the last time McCartney spoke of it was in 2002.

McCartney confirmed himself in the prior mentioned November 2008 interview[9] that he was indeed still in possession of the master tapes, and was still eager to release it, saying that he felt as though "the time has come for it to get its moment. I like it because it's the Beatles free, going off-piste", although he also stated that such a release would require consent from the group's estate (Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, and George Harrison's widow, Olivia Harrison, as well as Ringo Starr). As of 2013, the track has still not received a public release (though many fakes have shown up online). McCartney most recently mentioned it during an interview with Jimmy Kimmel on September 23rd, 2013, in which he briefly described the tone of the song.

As of 2017, the track remains unreleased. Many anticipated that it might be included as a bonus track on the Super Deluxe Edition of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but it failed to appear in the released track listings. At a preview event hosted at Abbey Road Studios to unveil the new Sgt. Pepper stereo remix, the project's Producer, Giles Martin commented that while "Carnival of Light" was considered for inclusion, "it wasn't really part of Pepper. It wasn't part of the Sgt. Pepper recording. It's a very different thing". However, he expressed an interest in "doing something interesting" with the track in the future.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Segment from Paul McCartney's 2013 interview with Jimmy Kimmel, in which he briefly mentions the unreleased track (3:19-4:06)
Paul McCartney interview with Stuart Maconie from 2007 explaining the history of the track and its non-appearance on Anthology 2.


"The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet" by The Mothers of Invention. This has been described by McCartney biographer as a track "Carnival of Light" "most resembles".
“Revolution 9” another Beatles sound collage, parts from “Carnival Of Light” have been rumored to have been used here.


A report about the upcoming Million Volt Light and Sound Rave, circa 1967.
Advert for A Million Volt Light and Sound Rave

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Wikipedia page on the Chalk Farm Road Roundhouse Theatre. Retrieved 09 Mar '13.
  2. 2.0 2.1 https://www.beatlesbible.com/1967/01/05/recording-penny-lane-carnival-of-light/ 5 January 1967. The Beatles Bible.
  3. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/7732546.stm 'Mythical' Beatles song confirmed. BBC News. Sunday, 16 November 2008
  4. https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/the-weirdest-beatles-track-of-all-may-be-released-41-years-on-1020780.html The weirdest Beatles track of all may be released, 41 years on. The Independent. Sadie Gray. Sunday 16 November 2008
  5. 5.0 5.1 Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles by Geoff Emerick.
  6. The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
  7. The Beatles' "Carnival of Light" (abbeyrd.net)
  8. Unit Delta Plus (delia-derbyshire.org)
  9. independent.co.uk article on the track, featuring quotes from BBC Radio 4's 2008 interview with Paul McCartney. Retrieved 09 Mar '13.