Could we finally hear Carnival of Light?

It would be like Paul to do something that no one expects at his upcoming Electric Proms show at the Roundhouse Theater on Thursday October 25th.   I mean that was the same theater that the song was performed all those years ago. It is my impression that the Electric Proms festival is meant to allow artists to experiment.  Perhaps, Paul will provide us with an insight into his most talked about foray into experimentation.  It would be the perfect opportunity to present this track.  It would be almost as if it was a homecoming for the long-lost Beatle track.  We’ll have to wait and see.

  • Check out the official site for Paul’s Electric Proms performance.


(Original poster for the Roundhouse Theater event where Carnival of LIght was played back in 1967.)

Here’s what we’ve read.

There is an interview with sir Paul in this week’s Radio Times (UK) to promote his concert appearance on the BBC’s Electric Proms.

Since the show is held at The Roundhouse Theatre, the interviewer suggested that he played “Carnival Of Light” as his pre-show music.

Paul replies:
“That’s a good idea. That IS a good idea, actually. I haven’t got a clue what I’m going to be doing yet, but I’ll probably come up with some hairbrained schemes.  One of which the Radio Times has now just given me.”

Source: Steve Hoffman forum

For those of you who do not know the history of the long-lost, often rumored Beatle/McCartney track Carnival of Light, here’s your Beatle history lesson.

“Carnival of Light” is an unreleased experimental piece by The Beatles. It was recorded on January 5, 1967, after the vocal overdubbing sessions for Penny Lane; a single recorded during the sessions for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The track was created for The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave, an event held at the Roundhouse Theatre on January 28 and February 4, 1967. Some people claim that it was around thirteen minutes, and Paul McCartney himself said it was around fifteen minutes (In the book The Complete Beatles Chronicle it’s listed as being 13 minutes and 48 seconds).

Beatles expert Mark Lewisohn, who listened to the song in 1987 while compiling his book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions says the song included:

“distorted, hypnotic drum and organ sounds, a distorted lead guitar, the sound of a church organ, various effects (water gargling was one) and, perhaps most intimidating of all John (Lennon) and Paul screaming dementedly and bawling aloud random phrases like “Are you alright?” and “Barcelona!”

Another person who has had the privilege of hearing this track is the writer of the official Paul McCartney biography: Barry Miles. In his book Many Years From Now he describes the song as having “no rhythm, although a beat is sometimes established for a few bars by the percussion or a rhythmic pounding piano. There is no melody, although snatches of a tune sometimes threaten to break through.”

The basic bed track of an organ playing bass notes and drums were recorded at a slow speed giving them a deeper sound. There is also a huge amount of reverb used on the instruments and vocals of John and Paul (the only two voices on the track), who also recorded Indian war cries, whistling, close-miked gasping, genuine coughing and fragments of studio conversation. Other overdubs to the song include bursts of guitar feedback, schmaltzy cinema organ, snatches of jangling pub piano and electronic feedback with John shouting ‘Electricity!’ The track concludes with McCartney asking the studio engineer in an echo soaked voice “Can we hear it back now?”.

Also, according to Barry Miles, musically it “…resembles “The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet” from Frank Zappa ‘s Freak Out! album, except there is no rhythm and the music…is more fragmented, abstract and serious.”

Dudley Edwards (one of the organizers of The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave and friend of Paul McCartney’s) also said that an early take of “Fixing a Hole” (from Sgt. Pepper’s) with a piano appeared during the song.

“Carnival of Light” has not yet appeared on any release, be it official or a bootleg recording. In 1996 McCartney had tried to release the track on the compilation album The Beatles Anthology 2. But it was George Harrison who voted to reject it: according to McCartney, the reason being was that “he didn’t like avant garde music” and felt it was more a John and Paul track rather than a The Beatles song. This, according to some, explains why the instrumental backings of “Eleanor Rigby” and “Within You Without You” appear on Anthology 2 instead.

In August that year, McCartney claimed (in an interview for Mojo) that he was working on a photo collage film of the Beatles that was similar to a film made about the Grateful Dead in 1995 called Grateful Dead — A Photo Film. He was planning to use “Carnival of Light” in the soundtrack, but, as of 2007, this project has yet to be seen and McCartney has not commented on the film’s status since 2002.

Source: Wikipedia entry for Carnival of Light

  • For more information on Paul McCartney’s experimental, avant-garde side, check out the book Unknown McCartney by Ian Peel.  It is quite the reference work, and provides many great insights into McCartney’s “other” releases and audio experiments.
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2 Responses

  1. […] read the news today: All Beatle news. VIDEO: Now and ThenCould we finally hear Carnival of Light?VIDEO: Trailer for Paul McCartney’s music lesson.Worst Band Feuds #6: John Lennon vs. Paul […]

  2. […] preshow music for the Roundhouse Theater performance would include a long-lost, relatively unheard, experimental Beatle gem.  Sadly it was not to meant to be.  Instead, the crowd was treated to some music from […]

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