Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 17, 20 February; 28, 29, 31 March 1967
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Released: 1 June 1967 (UK), 2 June 1967 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, Lowrey organ
Paul McCartney: acoustic guitar, bass guitar
George Harrison: harmonica
Ringo Starr: drums, harmonica, shaker bells
George Martin: piano, harmonium, Hammond organ, tape loops
Mal Evans: bass harmonica
Neil Aspinall: harmonica
Geoff Emerick: tape loops

Available on:
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Anthology 2
Love

On 31 January 1967, while The Beatles were in Sevenoaks, Kent, making a promotional film for Strawberry Fields Forever, John Lennon wandered in to an antique shop close to their hotel. There he bought a framed Victorian circus poster from 1843.

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The poster announced Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal, coming to Town Meadows in Rochdale. It grandly announced that the circus would be for the benefit of Mr Kite, and would feature “Mr J Henderson the celebrated somerset thrower” and Zanthus the horse.

Mr Kite was William Kite, a performer and the son of circus owner James Kite. In 1810 he had founded Kite’s Pavilion Circus and later moved to Wells’ Circus. It is thought that he worked in Pablo Fanques’ fair between 1843 and 1845. Fanque, pictured below, was Britain’s first black circus owner. He was born William Darby in Norwich in 1796.

Lennon hung the poster in his music room at his home in Weybridge, and began to use it as inspiration for a song. Some of the facts he changed – the circus was coming to Bishopsgate rather than Rochdale; the horse became Henry; the circus became a fair; Mr Kite was ‘late of Wells’s Circus’ rather that of Pablo Fanque (pictured below); and Mr Henderson, rather than Mr Kite, promised to challenge the world.

Minor changes aside, the words of the poster found their way almost unchanged into Lennon’s Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!, which closed the first half of the Sgt Pepper album. Lennon sat at his piano and sang phrases from the poster until he had the song, possibly with help from McCartney.

Lennon was later dismissive of the song, as revealed in a range of interview snippets collated in the Anthology book.

I wrote that as a pure poetic job, to write a song sitting there. I had to write because it was time to write. And I had to write it quick because otherwise I wouldn’t have been on the album. So I had to knock off a few songs. I knocked off A Day In The Life, or my section of it, and whatever we were talking about, Mr Kite, or something like that. I was very paranoid in those days, I could hardly move.
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

He also denied there were hidden drug references in the song.

The whole song is from a Victorian poster, which I bought in a junk shop. It is so cosmically beautiful. It’s a poster for a fair that must have happened in the 1800s. Everything in the song is from that poster, except the horse wasn’t called Henry. Now, there were all kinds of stories about Henry the Horse being heroin. I had never seen heroin in that period. No, it’s all just from that poster. The song is pure, like a painting, a pure watercolour.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Paul McCartney added Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite! to the setlist of his Out There tour in 2013. In a July 2013 interview with Rolling Stone he said he had co-written the song with Lennon.

Mr Kite! is such a crazy, oddball song that I thought it would freshen up the set. Plus the fact that I’d never done it. None of us in the Beatles ever did that song [in concert]. And I have great memories of writing it with John. I read, occasionally, people say, ‘Oh, John wrote that one.’ I say, ‘Wait a minute, what was that afternoon I spent with him, then, looking at this poster?’ He happened to have a poster in his living room at home. I was out at his house, and we just got this idea, because the poster said ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite’ – and then we put in, you know, ‘there will be a show tonight,’ and then it was like, ‘of course,’ then it had ‘Henry the Horse dances the waltz.’ You know, whatever. ‘The Hendersons, Pablo Fanques, somersets…’ We said, ‘What was ‘somersets’? It must have been an old-fashioned way of saying somersaults.’ The song just wrote itself. So, yeah, I was happy to kind of reclaim it as partially mine.
Paul McCartney
Rolling Stone

In the studio

George Martin was given the task of coming up with a fairground production for the song.

In terms of asking me for particular interpretations, John was the least articulate. He would deal in moods, he would deal in colours, almost, and he would never be specific about what instruments or what line I had. I would do that myself… John was more likely to say, as in the case of Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!, ‘It’s a fairground sequence. I want to be in that circus atmosphere; I want to smell the sawdust when I hear that song. So it was up to me to provide that.
George Martin
Anthology

The first seven takes of the song were recorded on 17 February 1967, the day the Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever single was released in the UK. In Abbey Road’s studio two they taped the rhythm track only – bass, drums and harmonium – with Lennon’s first vocal being overdubbed onto take seven.

On 20 February George Martin began trying to conjure up the required circus sounds.

I knew we needed a backwash, a general mush of sound, like if you go to a fairground, shut your eyes and listen: rifle shots, hurdy-gurdy noises, people shouting and – way n the distance – just a tremendous chaotic sound. So I got hold of old calliope tapes, playing Stars And Stripes Forever and other Sousa marches, chopped the tapes up into small sections and had Geoff Emerick throw them up in the air, re-assembling them at random.
George Martin
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Nineteen pieces of tape were used in the overdub, which appears towards the end of the song. Although they hoped for a random effect, it took a while to get right.

Pablo Fanque

I threw the bits up in the air but, amazingly, they came back together in almost the same order. We all expected it to sound different but it was virtually the same as before! So we switched bits around and turned some upside down.
Geoff Emerick
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

The song was then left until 28 March, when George Harrison, Ringo, Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall overdubbed harmonica parts, John played an organ and Paul a guitar solo.

The following day the fairground sound snippets were finally added, and George Martin played an organ part. And on the final day’s recording – 31 March – another organ and a glockenspiel part, both probably performed by Martin, were overdubbed.

The poster text

Mr Kite posterPablo Fanque’s Circus Royal
Town-Meadows, Rochdale

Grandest Night of the Season!
And positively the
LAST NIGHT BUT THREE!
Being for the
BENEFIT OF MR KITE,
(late of Wells’s Circus) and
Mr J. HENDERSON,
the celebrated somerset thrower!
Wire dancer, vaulter, rider, etc.
On TUESDAY Evening, February 14, 1843.

Messrs. Kite & Henderson, in announcing the following Entertainment, assure the Public that this Night’s Production will be one of the most Splendid ever produced in this Town, having been some days in preparation.

Mr Kite will, for this Night only, introduce the celebrated HORSE, ZANTHUS! Well known to be one of the best Broke Horses IN THE WORLD!!!

Mr Henderson will undertake the arduous Task of THROWING TWENTY ONE SOMERSETS on the solid ground. Mr Kite will appear, for the first time this season, On the Tight Rope, When Two Gentlemen Amateurs of this Town will perform with him. Mr Henderson will, for the first time in Rochdale,
introduce his extraordinary TRAMPOLINE LEAPS and SOMERSETS! Over Men & Horses, through Hoops, over Garters, and lastly, through a Hogshead of REAL FIRE! In this branch of the profession Mr H. challenges THE WORLD!

34 Responses to “Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!”

  1. Jesus

    John felt that many songs of him were throwaways, when i read those articles i felt so sad because i like those beautiful songs but he hates them jaja it’s weird.

    Reply
    • JP

      It is always sad to hear John undermine songs (his own and those by the others) with his cynical, often negative recollections of them. I understand the man had “issues” but it is kind of a slap in the face of fans who enjoy and/or praise the songs to have the author come in after-the-fact as simply dismiss it as garbage. Sadder, for me, was George’s minimal role on Sgt. Pepper. On Mr. Kite Harrison “only” plays harmonica? Why did he even bother to show up for the session if that’s all they are going to use him for? George had already proven himself a superb guitarist and was growing as a songwriter by ’67, yet he seemingly “regressed” on Sgt. Pepper. I know some of it was his own doing, prefering to obsess about India and sitars and such. But he was still a Beatle, and was obviously present for these sessions, yet he’s not vocally present on this song (or most of the others), his guitar is absent but they found some role as a harmonica-player for a rock superstar? Disappointing to say the least. They even cast aside his Only A Northern Song (which IMO was worthy of inclusion on Pepper WITH George’s other song Within You Without You). Mr. Kite is a nice, fittingly psychedelic song that helped keep Pepper from being an overwhelmingly McCartney project. More John and George would have made Pepper better (it is NOT my favorite Beatle LP and IMO the praise lavished on it is more appropriate for Revolver and Abbey Road).

      Reply
      • James

        Where exactly would a guitar solo fit in with this song? John just meant that it was a throwaway, not that he thought it sucked. He just had a different and more blunt way of putting things. It isn’t an overly great song, it’s a little boring and John sounds bored. The bass is nice and the words are interesting, but certainly not among John’s finer work.

        Reply
      • Matt

        I think he was doing that to protect himself from the world, like you like it? Great. You don’t like it? I don’t give a f**k, i’m not saying it as a fact, I just think that he lacked feeling safe in his life, he always had a answer to put an attack down.

        The middle section with this weird piano is one of the best things he’s done, it’s cosmic, literally from different universe.

        Reply
  2. Ron Davis

    Great site. I’ve been reading for hours.

    However, “hanged” as in “Lennon hanged the poster in his music room” should be “hung” as described below. (Yes, as well as being a Beatles fan I’m a pedant. Please forgive me.)

    “Hanged, as a past tense and a past participle of hang, is used in the sense of “to put to death by hanging,” as in Frontier courts hanged many a prisoner after a summary trial. A majority of the Usage Panel objects to hung used in this sense. In all other senses of the word, hung is the preferred form as past tense and past participle, as in I hung my child’s picture above my desk.
    (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2000)

    Reply
  3. Captain Marvel

    from the Steve Turner book, “A Hard Day’s Write”:

    At the time, John saw ‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr, Kite!’ as a throwaway, telling Hunter Davies, “I wasn’t proud of that. There was no real work. I was just going through the motions because we needed a new song for Sgt. Pepper at that moment.” By 1980, he had radically revised his opinion. He told Playboy interviewer David Sheff: “It’s so cosmically beautiful… The song is pure, like a painting, a pure watercolour.”

    Reply
  4. PaulRamon

    This song has the greatest bassline I have ever heard. McCartney was on fire during this album.John was so wrong to dismiss this as garbage.

    Funnily enough, i am a pedant too and i thought i would share this with you.

    nit·pick

    To be concerned with or find fault with insignificant details.
    nit’pick’er

    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

    Reply
  5. Roger

    Oh heck…John thought all of his Beatle songs were “throw aways”…while his post-Beatle stuff were mainly “throw aways”.

    Lennon was a great Beatle songwriter/singer (my favorite)…I would have hoped that had he lived he would have gotten rid of his bitterness and come down off his high horse to enjoy life a little…but we’ll never know.

    Reply
    • Joseph Brush

      In the 1980 Playboy interview one can read that John had changed his attitude concerning this song for the better.
      His songs on Double Fantasy showed that he had mellowed some.

      Reply
  6. Gustavo

    Why didn’t you give the credits for the tape loops to Martin, Emerick and John himself?

    About the reeds, John play one organ and Martin another one and harmonium, but Mal didn’t play one.

    I’m not sure if the glockenspiel were used at all. It was at the studio, but not included.

    Also, there’s a piano on this one. Who played it?

    There’re photographs of this sessions with John, George and someone else playing harmonicas. So, it’s most likely John played too, in fact, he was the “official beatle” harmonica player.

    Reply
    • Joe

      The piano was played by George Martin. I agree the glockenspiel probably wasn’t used, so I’ve removed it from the listing. Lennon didn’t play harmonica on this though – it was Harrison, Starr, Aspinall and Evans.

      Reply
      • Gustavo Solórzano Alfaro

        Right now I’m reading Geoff Emerick book, and he said a glockenspiel was recorded (half speed), but he didn’t mention who played it.

        Then, what I always thought about harmonicas seen pictures from those sessions: “a chorus of bass harmonicas (played by John, G. Harrison, Mal, and Neil).”

        Reply
  7. GnikNus

    George Martin was clearly the fifth Beatle and was every bit as important as the other four and this song is evidence of that! To take an idea from the imagination of John Lennon and actually translate it was very impressive.

    Reply
  8. MrBig

    At about 1:10 through the song you can clearly hear an electric guitar. I think George played it.

    Reply
  9. G. McGregor

    Possibly my favorite Beatles song. Incredibly well done. Unbelieveable almost. What a sound. And on a 4-track. Lennon was dismissive of a lot of stuff. I’m guessing it was one way of dealing with being somewhat overwhelmed. He came to appreciate the song anyway.

    Reply
    • charlie

      He went through his primal scream period, during which he believed that all art had to be self referential and brutally honest. It was this frame of reference that made him dismissive of songs that were pure flights of fancy and touched no part of his own inner world as he saw it.
      He was wrong on a couple of levels and I think was coming round to a more rounded and balanced view before he died.

      Reply
  10. Robert

    Regarding John’s comments about his music, I don’t know how old most you all are – I’m 53 and lived through these periods – I think one ought to remember that John’s comments in 1970 are the comments of a 30 year-old on his work when he was in his 20′s. His 1980 interviews are the words of a 40 year old looking back.

    We can be sure that had he lived to his 50′s and beyond, his view of his music etc., would have become much more circumspect.

    Our view and portrait of John remains frozen in time.

    Reply
    • charlie

      I’m only 52 so I’ll defer to your greater experience. Yes I totally agree that’s very easy to forget how young they were when they produced all this music that still keeps us stimulated more than 40 years later.

      Reply
      • Robert

        well Charlie, next year you’ll fully understand my point – at 53 all the wisdom of the world is revealed!

        Reply
    • Todd

      Charlie and Robert are exactly right about Lennon. His harsh assessment and bitterness about his bandmates was fading by the time he died. He was a lot happier in his personal life. Had he lived, I think he would have collaborated with Paul again sometime in the 1980s or early 1990s. Time really does heal all wounds.

      Reply
  11. Nico

    I have a question.
    You’ve written that Paul play an (Acoustic) guitar solo in this song. But I cannot hear a guitar at all. Can you tell me where it is the most hearable?

    Reply
  12. beto

    You did not credit Paul for vocals, and you can clearly hear him do harmonies in the last part of each verse, I think you can hear George Harrison too.

    Reply
  13. Roland

    Burn what you once adored. This is a kind of rebirth John might have crossed as the ever questioning man he was (sigh…)
    But I believe he initially was very proud of Mr Kite!
    This is a musical collage masterpiece. A pure form of modern art. John being jealous about Paul’s ability in this domain (Paul first intended to work on collages) certainly pushed it to test this sort of artistic expression onto a Beatle song. This is the former Number 9, fitting totally with Sgt Pepper’s spirit. A very clever choice for a leftover, Mr Lennon.

    Congrats for your site, this is a goldmine :)

    Reply
  14. Tom

    Actually, years later John changed his thoughts on this being a throwaway song. I think it was an interview with Playboy where he described it as cosmic or something similar. I have always loved this song. It was just John the artist being hard on himself, not realizing the great song we still enjoy hearing.

    Reply
  15. Christopher Hight

    This is a remarkable song. George Martin and Geoff Emericks’ contribution can’t be understated. One of my favorite Beatle songs. From what I have read, Lennon was in a bit of an acid funk late 66-67 leaving him feeling bored and depressed. Too much of a good thing. He wrote some beautiful songs during this period and Mr Kite is a great example. Thanks for this website. It’s a wealth of information.

    Reply
  16. Avi

    According to Paul McCartney from a rolling stone interview:
    “And I have great memories of writing it with John. I read, occasionally, people say, “Oh, John wrote that one.” I say, “Wait a minute, what was that afternoon I spent with him, then, looking at this poster?” He happened to have a poster in his living room at home. I was out at his house, and we just got this idea, because the poster said “Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite” – and then we put in, you know, “there will be a show tonight,” and then it was like, “of course,” then it had “Henry the Horse dances the waltz.” You know, whatever. “The Hendersons, Pablo Fanques, somersets…” We said, “What was ‘somersets’? It must have been an old-fashioned way of saying somersaults.” The song just wrote itself. So, yeah, I was happy to kind of reclaim it as partially mine.”

    Link: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/q-a-paul-mccartney-looks-back-on-his-latest-magical-mystery-tour-20130725

    Reply
  17. parlance

    Joe, you might want to add Paul’s comments on the song from Many Years from Now, since the Rolling Stone interview was not the first time he’d mentioned cowriting it. I don’t have time to type up the paragraph at the moment, but it’s at pp 317-318 in the first edition.

    Reply
  18. Peter Hammill

    Hello, good people….

    It’s very sad when we know that John felt some songs he made was a throwaway. But remember this my friends:

    He only begun to think that way AFTER Yoko has melted his very brain with heroine…..what a bad ass woman!!!

    Reply

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