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McCartney Pushes For Release of ‘Last’ Unreleased Beatles Composition

Published: Fri November 21, 2008  News Feed

Paul McCartney has not only confirmed the existence of what’s arguably the last unreleased Beatles composition, but says it’s long past time for the public to hear it.

[originally from Gibson.com] Recorded informally at the end of a “Penny Lane” vocal dubbing session on Jan. 5, 1967, and dubbed “Carnival of Light,” the improvised, essentially free-form experimental track has long tantalized Beatles fans and collectors.

In a BBC Radio 4 interview, McCartney recalls the track was recorded at the behest of an English journalist, to be used at a “psychedelic” multi-media event at London’s Roundhouse Theatre.

But the ensuing decades may have clouded Paul’s memory – previous historical research indicates it was actually spurred by a request from David Vaughan of the London design group Binder, Edwards and Vaughan, who were part of the Million Volt Light and Sound Rave, held at the Roundhouse on Jan. 28 and Feb. 7, 1967.

The designers had recently decorated a piano belonging to McCartney, and upon its delivery Vaughan explained his involvement in the upcoming multimedia “happening” and quickly secured a commitment from McCartney to participate by contributing a recording to be played at the event. The show – essentially a prototype of today’s raves - also featured an eclectic trio of live bands that included the psych-proto-prog of Soft Machine and the New Vaudeville Band’s retro-pop. McCartney’s name was shrewdly used to help promote the event.


Original poster for 1967’s Million Volt Light and Sound Rave

Paul notes the improvised studio performance was inspired by his interest in avant garde composers John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

“I was listening to a lot of that stuff, and John was into a lot of that stuff,” McCartney noted of the track’s musical roots. “Carnival of Light” is “very simplistic, quite naïve. But I like it because it’s the Beatles free, the Beatles going off piste.”

Indeed, the closest stylistically-related Beatles recording is the White Album’s musique concrete track, “Revolution 9.”

Recorded in one improvised take, Paul recalls telling his band mates “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 on 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.”

Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, who listened to the original session tape in the mid-‘80s while compiling The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions – his exhaustive official sessionography of the band – described it as a cacophony of “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 McCartney screaming dementedly and bawling aloud random phrases like 'Are you alright?' and 'Barcelona!'”

McCartney says he tried to convince his surviving band mates and Yoko One to release “Carnival of Light” as part of the band’s mid-‘90s Beatles Anthology retrospective project, but was over-ruled at the time. Paul has previously noted that George Harrison in particular held a low opinion of such experimental music: “As George would say 'avant garde a clue' - and George did not like (‘Carnival of Light’) 'cause he (didn't) like avant garde music.”

But McCartney argues its time to reconsider – coincidentally, just as his most recent project resurrects his Fireman  persona, the occasional, largely experimental mix collaboration with Youth, aka Killing Joke mainstay Martin Glover, that’s now in its 15th year. The unlikely duo’s newest release, Electric Arguments, is due Nov. 24. 

"The time has come for it to get its moment," McCartney recently said of “Carnival of Light,” noting that it “would show we were working with really avant-garde stuff.”

But to do so, McCartney will have to convince Ringo Starr and the estates of Harrison and Lennon, who must consent to any proposed Beatles-related release.

Listen to Paul McCartney talk about “Carnival of Light” in this BBC interview excerpt.

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