Carnival Of Light

Written by: Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-Starr
Recorded: 5 January 1967
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Unreleased

John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr: vocals, organ, guitar, tambourine, effects, loops

Possibly the most sought-after unreleased Beatles track, Carnival Of Light was an experimental composition recorded in January 1967.

Poster for the Carnival Of Light event, 28 January 1967An early excursion into the world of avant garde music, which would culminate more than a year later with the release of John Lennon's Revolution 9, Carnival Of Light was led by Paul McCartney, and taped in a single day during the Penny Lane sessions.

In 1966 McCartney had a piano painted in psychedelic colours by the design team Binder, Edwards and Vaughan. McCartney met David Vaughan through a mutual friend, Tara Browne, the Guinness heir whose death partly inspired the lyrics of A Day In The Life.

The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave

In December 1966 Vaughan asked McCartney to contribute a recording for two events, to be promoted by the designers in the Roundhouse venue in Camden, London, on 28 January and 4 February 1967. The events were variously known as The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave or the Carnival of Light Rave.

Although McCartney was in the early stages of recording the Sgt Pepper album, he agreed to make a recording for Vaughan. In spite of this, Vaughan wasn't entirely impressed with the results:

I asked Paul to do it and I thought he would make more of it than he did; I thought this was a vehicle for him, if anything was. My trouble is, I expect everybody to drop everything. I forget other people have got things on.
David Vaughan
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The events also featured taped contributions by Unit Delta Plus, a collective whose members included Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and fellow electronic music pioneer Peter Zinovieff.

Of all The Beatles' recordings, relatively little is known about Carnival Of Light. It came to light in 1988, with the publication of Mark Lewisohn's The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions.

The recording was described by Barry Miles, a long-term friend to Paul McCartney, and the writer of his authorised biography. Miles reportedly played a part in the genesis of the recording.

The tape has no rhythm, though a beat is sometimes established for a few bars by the percussion or a rhythmic pounding on the piano. There is no melody, though snatches of a tune sometimes threaten to break through. The Beatles make literally random sounds, although they sometimes respond to each other; for instance, a burst of organ notes answered by a rattle of percussion. The basic track was recorded slow so that some of the drums and organ were very deep and sonorous, like the bass notes of a cathedral organ. Much of it is echoed and it is often hard to tell if you are listening to a slowed-down cymbal or a tubular bell. John and Paul yell with massive amounts of reverb on their voices, there are Indian war cries, whistling, close-miked gasping, genuine coughing and fragments of studio conversation, ending with Paul asking, with echo, 'Can we hear it back now?' The tape was obviously overdubbed and has bursts of feedback guitar, schmaltzy cinema organ, snatches or jangling pub piano, some unpleasant electronic feedback and John yelling, 'Electricity'. There is a great deal of percussion throughout, again much of it overdubbed. The tape was made with full stereo separation, and is essentially an exercise in musical layers and textures. It most resembles The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet, the twelve-minute final track on Frank Zappa's Freak Out! album, except there is no rhythm and the music here is more fragmented, abstract and serious. The deep organ notes at the beginning of the piece set the tone as slow and contemplative.
Barry Miles
Many Years From Now

Paul McCartney is said to have wanted to include Carnival Of Light on Anthology 2, but the decision was vetoed by George Harrison. Since then, McCartney has occasionally mentioned a desire to see it released.

In April 2002, Mark Ellen of the Rocking Vicar website revealed that he had questioned McCartney about the recording towards the end of an interview for The Word magazine.

Poster for the Carnival Of Light event, 28 January 1967Rocking Vicar: Just one last question - Carnival Of Light: does it actually exist?

Paul McCartney: It does exist, yeah. We recorded it in about fifteen minutes. It's very avant garde - as George would say 'avant garde a clue' - and George did not like it 'cos he doesn't like avant garde music.

RV: Who wrote it?

PM: It's officially me. I instigated it. No there's no lyrics, it's avant garde music. You would class it as... well you wouldn't class it actually, but it would come in the Stockhausen/John Cage bracket... John Cage would be the nearest. It's very free-form. Yeah man, it's the coolest piece of music since sliced bread!

RV: This is early '67?

PM: I was asked about '67 to do it by Barry Miles - you know, who did my book Many Years From Now - and he asked me to do it for this event at The Roundhouse called Carnival Of Light, so that's how it got its title. And he asked me to write a fifteen to twenty minute piece, and I was into that kind of thing, not on record with The Beatles, but just for that. I went into the studio and said to the guys, Look we've got half an hour before the session officially starts, would you mind terribly if I did this thing?

RV: So this is with the other Beatles?

PM: With the other Beatles. This is a Beatle record. And they all just fell in with the spirit of it and I just said, Would you go on that and would you stay on that and would you be on that and we'll just take twenty minutes to do it in real time? And they all just got into it.

RV: Why don't you release it?

PM: I actually have a project I would like ... I'm involved ... One of the many things I did, I did a thing called The Grateful Dead Photo Film, using Linda's snapshots and making them move, dissolving between them and making them into a film, a short art film, which I showed at festivals and things. And I'm actually in the process - although everything else and its uncle is holding it up - but I've got a Beatles photo film on the go and I would love to use it as part of the soundtrack of that.

RV: There was a rumour it was going to come out on Anthology. What happened with that?

PM: It was up for consideration on The Anthology and George vetoed it. He didn't like it. Maybe its time hadn't come.

In the studio

The piece was made under the name Untitled, and was taped in a single take on 5 January 1967. It followed the overdub of vocals onto Penny Lane.

Carnival Of Light, as it has since become known, lasted 13'48", and constituted the basic track along with a series of overdubs. During the recording McCartney briefly sang Fixing A Hole on the piano, according to Dudley Edwards of Binder, Edwards and Vaughan.

A breakdown of the piece was given by Mark Lewisohn in 1988:

Track one of the tape was full of distorted, hypnotic drum and organ sounds; track two had a distorted lead guitar; track three had the sounds of a church organ, various effects (the gargling of water was one) and voices; track four featured various indescribable sound effects with heaps of tape echo and manic tambourine.

But of all the frightening sounds it was the voices on track three which really set the scene, John and Paul screaming dementedly and bawling aloud random phrases like 'Are you all right?' and 'Barcelona!'

Paul terminated the proceedings after almost 14 minutes with one final shout up to the control room: 'Can we hear it back now?'

Mark Lewisohn
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions

Carnival Of Light took up the majority of the 5 January session, which lasted between 7pm and 12.15am.

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
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

According to Lewisohn, a mono mix was made at the end of the session, which was then given by McCartney to Binder, Edwards and Vaughan on a quarter inch tape.

The Beatles' recording was played a number of times during the two Roundhouse events. Dudley Edwards has claimed that it was subsequently taken to America by Ray Anderson, who assisted with the events' light shows.

60 responses on “Carnival Of Light

  1. Steve Pinkerton

    I would imagine that this song along with several others might have been released except for the M.Jackson thorn in the buttocks. Maybe any new song or program might well see the preceeds go to Michael Jackson beings he purchased the catalogue of Beatles Music out from under the noses of the composers. I would hate to release something that’s supposed to be the most sought after tune in their catalogue and allow the glory, money, go to some freak that has nothing to do with it except have a lkot of money which is depleting as I type or so I’ve heard. It might be different if MAC owned his own songs.

    1. Dennis

      John and Paul never owned their own publishing. They still have the author’s share of their songs, which is equal to the publishers share.

      A new Lennon McCartney original from those days would payout 1/2 of the writers share to both Lennon (his estate) and McCartney, and the publisher’s share divided by MJ (his estate) and Sony ATV.

      1. ForgetScowl

        I Agree to the absolute. To this day (at high school reunions?) I hear people say “I liked the original Beatles but not so much after the drugs…” WTF.

        I listened to Rev 9 ad nauseam; looking for the Egyptian clues to the pyramids but eventually re-organized myself into the maturity that this was just a bunch of nonsense sound with nothing prolific in the shadows.

        I just listened to Paul’s “Carnival” for the first? A waste of time. Trash it with #9.

  2. wesleman

    This article contains as much information about this particular recording as I’ve been able to glean so far on the internet. Thank you for this, TBB! While I’d love dearly to be able to have an opportunity to give “Carnival of Light” a listen, the thought of never hearing it at all doesn’t exactly keep me awake at night either.

    Perhaps Beatle George had it right in the first place. Avant garde = “‘avan’t garde a clue”. I must admit to having enjoyed all of the Fab’s dabblings into that experimental realm however, at least as much of it which has already been released, on bootlegs or otherwise.

    “Revolution #9″ is an essential component of the “White Album, imo.

      1. TheOneBeatle (From Youtube)

        All youtube Carnival Of Light are fakes.
        Neither in official, unofficial or bootleg.
        This is one of the real unreleased songs of The Beatles, along with some other alternate takes (like Twist & Shout Take 2), or other unreleased songs.

  3. TheOneBeatle (From Youtube)

    This is i think the most famous unreleased Beatles song.
    I want it to complete my tribute of Sgt. Pepper in a new remixed (from original multitracks and three channel separation left, center, right) album by myself, called: The Sgt. Pepper’s And His One And Only Lonely Hearts Club Band, with 17 songs in the followed order:
    – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
    – With A Little Help From My Friends
    – Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
    – Getting Better
    – Fixing A Hole
    – She’s Leaving Home
    – Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!
    – (OPTIONAL: Carnival Of Light i might put it here or…)
    – Within You Without You
    – When I’m Sixty-Four
    – Lovely Rita
    – Strawberry Fields Forever
    – Penny Lane
    – Only A Northern Song
    – (OPTIONAL 2: Carnival Of Light i want it more here)
    – Good Morning Good Morning
    – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
    – A Day In The Life

    Please Sir Paul, let’s hear it!

  4. TheOneBeatle (From Youtube)

    I have something that i want that all beatle fans have to know:
    Supposedly, a 13:48 minute track in a 2009 released Russian bootleg called ”Now And Then” contains: Carnival Of Light!
    I heard partially this track and includes this that may indicates that this is the real:
    ”The shouting of Are You all right? and Barcelona! of Paul & John”.
    ”Drumming of Strawberry Fields Forever”
    ”Reverb practically in all the mix”
    ”The track last exactly 13:48”
    But here’s some other things that may prove that is a fake:
    ”Sounds from a concerto used on Revolution 9 (1968), this mix was recorded and taped on 5 January 1967. An explanation could be that this was used here, but because it was unreleased they may recycled this concerto on revolution 9.”
    ”What’s The New Mary Jane (1968) shouts; another explanation is that maybe this sounds we’re recorded during the Pepper sessions and used in this other unreleased track.”
    ”The ending echo voice ”Can we hear it back now?” is not in this track”.

    I’ll upload it and comment about it.

  5. dave

    actually my freind Nick has a copy of the unreleased album its tracked on its really good or …well i like it anyway. and yes he really does say “Can we hear it back now?” its soaked in echo though

    (Carnival of light is a title track btw)

    1. Joe Post author

      Dave – which album are you talking about? I’m not aware of this track having ever been bootlegged.

      Carnival Of Light was never the title track of anything – it was the name of an event, and the recording was actually called Untitled. If your friend Nick has a copy, could you please upload it to webspace and share it with this rest of us?

  6. dave

    no bootlegging invoved it has a alternative version of the word but i dont remember the other songs there were like5 or 6 he has copies of the original film tapes(master tapes) the track was meant to be realesed for an event yes but i guess afterward they were going to realease it as an album
    and im not in contact with nick at the moment but when i am i will get him to put it up on his site

  7. dave

    that version of the word is completly different too i was shocked at the fact that he had so many different takes and versions of these songs i had no idea Carnival of light was so sought after

    1. Steve W

      If this is legit, please let us know when your friend has uploaded it or keep us updated.

      I’ve got this thread bookmarked so I can easily come back and click links :)

    1. Joe Post author

      Thanks Dave. I was in two minds about posting the links here, but if someone wants to contact him and enquire about Carnival Of Light, please report back. And of ni2 wants me to take down these links, I’d be happy to oblige.

  8. dave

    I’m happy to help out with any one that wants to hear it, I like it so it’s something I’d like to share with others btw on his website be sure to sign the guest book so he knows just how many people are asking I’ve been trying to get him to put it up for a year or so
    PLEASE go on to one of these links and ask nick to put it up_dc

  9. Arthur

    I heard that it was once played at the beginning of a Pink Floyd-show, end 60’s, begin 70’s, and THAT was captured on tape (visual, not sound), I have a tendency to trust the source as he knew a lot about the Beatles.

    listened to the Now and then-fake…
    I don’t believe that it’s gonna sound anything like that, but hey: Whatever people do to strengthen the myth…

  10. Scott

    TheOneBeatle, I agree. We had a cool, hard rain this morning around dawn, so I put on Rev#9. I had to hear it twice.
    The part, “Take this, brother–May it serve you well” is so damn dramatic! It feels like ice water down my back every time I hear it. Any Real Beatles fan or Sound Artist knows how important Rev#9 is. For people who don’t, well–There’s really nothing more to say, eh?

    1. Von Bontee

      Right on brother!…nobody’s gonna FORCE Jamie to listen to it if it’s ever released. Even if it does suck, I’d love the opportunity to judge for myself.

    1. Terkin

      Why, because it`s not under the invented rules and spontaneous creativity?

      And who invented the rules? A man – and then a group of men – according to his/their common sense (something like by René Descartes). And you, Jamie, judge according to the common sense of your level, as far as it`s been developed, and let other people create and judge according to their common sense, as it`s been developed by them, as they want it to be to put it in another words.

  11. MrBig

    John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr: vocals, organ, guitar, tambourine, effects, loops

    Ringo plays guitar on a Beatles song?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

    1. Joe Post author

      No, the line-up means that those instruments were used, and JPG+R were the performers. I haven’t been able to separate them out for the individual members.

  12. Chant

    With all The Beatles content being released on iTunes a person can really hope to see some type of single of this released. I’m one of the select people that really enjoys Revolution 9 so this would be really interesting to get into my collection of Beatles songs and have it finally complete. Great article by the way.

  13. McLerristarr

    As much as I want to hear this recording, if both George and the organiser of the rave didn’t like it, then it can’t be that great. That being said, Paul seems to be quite pleased with it so it can’t be too embarrassing.

  14. Robert Peters

    Let’s be honest with each other… it probably IS crap… but dammit all I want to hear it. I’m the type of fan that listens to the very end of A DAY IN THE LIFE just so I can hear the squeek of Paul’s chair. It really doesn’t matter how good or bad it is. It is something the Beatles did and I would very much like to hear it. Just for curiosity sake. So for that reason I think it needs to be released. Does Paul not know how much we crave this?

      1. Robert Peters

        Ringo’s shoe, huh? Certainly could be. I don’t even remember where I read it was Paul’s chair. Maybe when I heard it the first time that is what I thought it was. I always found it interesting.

  15. UMRK

    I listened to the “untitled” track that’s supposed to be COL posted by Chris above and although it sounds like it came from that era, it doesn’t fit the characteristics described in the article at the top of this page. To verify, I fast forwarded to the end of the track (it is loner than the 13:48 cited here) and Paul asking for a playback s not there. Someone in desperate need of a productive hobby spent a lot of time trying to duplicate the COL track, though.

  16. ????? (@outroversion)

    Someone posted what people seemed to agree was the real deal on what.cd yesterday and it got pulled legal action being cited everywhere, people banned, any attempt to reupload it was an immediate ban, talk of it was muted to avoid legal action they essentially are just pretending it never happened to avoid legal repercussions. It did though and we downloaded the hell out of it!

  17. Calvin

    I don’t care if it turns out to be the worst crap ever recorded; IT’S AN UNRELEASED PSYCHEDELIC BEATLES SONG MADE DURING THEIR PRIME. Let’s hear it!

    (P.S. I always liked Revolution 9….not that it’s something you would listen to over and over, but it’s very interesting to me.)

  18. Dr Winston o Boogie

    I have always enjoyed psychedelic instrumentals and collages and I would really love to hear Carnival of Light and maybe even recreate it using the article’s description just to get a feeling of what it’s like. If anybody else has attempted to do this and recorded it, I would enjoy listening to it!

  19. Andrew

    Why not release it for goodness sake? What does anyone have to lose? It’s not as if even if it is rubbish, like for instance “What’s the New Mary Jane”, The Beatles reputation is going to suffer in the slightest.

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