The “lost” Beatles song Paul McCartney has vowed to release one day

“It does exist, yeah. We recorded it in about fifteen minutes. It’s very avant-garde – as George [Harrison] would say ‘avant-garde a clue’ – and George did not like it ’cos he doesn’t like avant-garde music.”

That’s Paul McCartney talking about perhaps the most legendary unreleased Beatles track of all time. ‘Carnival of Light’ represents The Beatles at their psychedelic apex. Recording during the same sessions that produced ‘Penny Lane’, ‘Carnival of Light’ was fully experimental, so much so that those involved in the recording have occasionally stopped short of even calling it a song.

“It’s officially me. I instigated it,” McCartney would add. “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!”

McCartney was approached by David Vaughan, one of the organisers of the Million Volt Light and Sound Rave, to contribute a piece to the event. McCartney agreed, and during some downtime at EMI Studios, he and the rest of The Beatles (or perhaps just John Lennon, sources differ) recorded a single 14-minute-long composition in one take. When McCartney recalled the inciting incident, however, he credited someone else for asking him to record the piece.

“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 [sic], so that’s how it got its title,” McCartney told Rocking Vicar in 2002. “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?’”

McCartney insisted that he recorded the track “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.”

The track wasn’t popular with everyone involved. “When they had finished George Martin said to me, ‘This is ridiculous, we’ve got to get our teeth into something more constructive,’” engineer Geoff Emerick later remembered. Apart from its appearance at the Million Volt Sound and Light Rave, ‘Carnival of Light’ never saw an official release and remains hidden away in the band’s vault.

“We were listening to everything we’d ever recorded [for Anthology],” McCartney told the BBC in 2008. “I said it would be great to put this on because it would show we were working with really avant-garde stuff… But it was vetoed. The guys didn’t like the idea, like ‘this is rubbish’.

“We were set up in the studio and would just go in every day and record,” he added. “I said to the guys, this is a bit indulgent but would you mind giving me 10 minutes? I’ve been asked to do this thing. All I want you to do is just wander round all of the stuff and bang it, shout, play it. It doesn’t need to make any sense. Hit a drum, wander to the piano, hit a few notes, just wander around. So that’s what we did and then put a bit of an echo on it. It’s very free.”

McCartney was insistent at the time that the song should see an official release. “I like it because it’s The Beatles free, going off piste,” he claimed. “The time has come for it to get its moment.” Sadly, ‘Carnival of Light’ has yet to see the light of day.

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