By 1973, Mann had dropped out from the rock scene, in which he had reportedly been an avid explorer, combining his fretboard flights with an experiential delight in psychedelic substances. Sex and drugs were suddenly out the window, and even music was on pause.
Harvey Mann had discovered Krishna Consciousness, a movement that had mopped up the acid-blotted edges of the hippie movement. The guitarist gave up sex and drugs (and alcohol and meat), and his next project, birthed in 1975, sounded like it.
It’s not that Living Force lacked fire and passion, it’s just that Mann’s instrumental prowess was suddenly directed at those chanting robed baldies, and eschewed the grit and sweat of rock and roll for something altogether more devotional. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves …
When Living Force finally coalesced into a serious project in 1975, they seemed a promising proposition, with another former Underdog/Space Farm cadet, drummer Glen Absolum, in the line-up, as well as bassist Gary Clarke (formerly of Carson), keyboardist Ivan Thompson (formerly of Dragon) and guitarist Murray Partridge (formerly of Freshwater).
When it was announced in November that former Ticket guitarist Eddie Hansen had replaced Partridge, guitar hero worshipers were stoked. Fancy that: Two of the best guitar abusers in the country, in the same band! Expectation was high.
Sadly, the group wasn’t well-received, and was subject to a high personnel turnover, abortive projects and disastrous gigs, and the supposedly mostly completed album that Mann described (complete with sealed EMI deal) in 1975 – with track names like ‘Maya Is Queen’ and ‘Playing Around In The Endless Maya’ – didn’t see the light of day (on WEA) until 1977.
On a good day, the mellifluous, creamy notes – sometimes in unison – produced by Mann and Hansen over epic instrumental workouts could make for exhilarating listening, and if you closed your eyes you could pretend you were hearing a pairing of John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana, like the one on their dual-guitar deal Love Devotion Surrender.
When they performed at an infamous Radio Hauraki gig at Albert Park, they ended up getting the plug pulled after scaring 90 percent of the 2,000-strong audience away.
But the songs suffered from the group’s blind allegiance to the Krishna cause, and when they performed at an infamous Radio Hauraki gig at Albert Park, they ended up getting the plug pulled after scaring 90 percent of the 2,000-strong audience away with a half-hour of chanted nonsense.
While that incident – reported in John Dix’s Stranded In Paradise NZ rock history – may be at least partly apocryphal, it helps to explain the rapid depletion of the group’s standing.
By 1976, when Roger Jarrett wrote about them in Hot Licks magazine, they seem to have decided on a more pragmatic tack, bizarrely claiming that “we’re a high energy rock and roll band.” But as Jarrett notes, “The band are more relaxed and have left the more overt religious aspects of their previous incarnations to the music, which is spiritual without losing any excitement or power. Eddie and Harvey’s guitar workouts have never been better with each doing amazing things with feedback, controlled sustain and lightning runs up and down the fretboard.” Amen to that!
While the group limped on in various permutations until 1979, however, the writing was on the wall as soon as New Zealand got wind of the howling, feral punk revolution fomenting in the Mother country.
Perhaps Dix summed up the prevalent attitude best in his caustic appraisal: “Replacing passion with precision, Living Force bored the tassles off all but the most terminal hippies. Long, drawn-out and mostly extraneous solos were the order of the day.”
While admirers of virtuoso guitar gods may vehemently disagree, it’s certainly true that New Zealand lacked a sympathetic environment for this band of astral travellers and former pothead pixies, and along with our malnourished roster of progressive rock bands, Living Force had withered away by the turn of the 1980s.
The only Living Force recordings are the self-titled album in 1977, and a single from that album, ‘Jaya’/’Matter Monster’.
Eddie Hansen inexplicably left Living Force halfway through recording their album, but had returned by November of 1977.
In July 1978 the group flew to San Francisco, where they recorded with Santana engineer Glen Kalatkin. The resulting album never materialised. It’s rumoured that the group turned down a binding American record contract on ethical grounds.
They brought back vocalist Mona Hollguin from their American expedition, but she soon returned to her home country.
Original member Glen Absolum left the band in 1978, and Harvey Mann jumped the sinking ship in February 1979. Living Force finally knocked it on the head at the end of that year.
In 1979 Mann teamed up with Absolum to form Appaloosa, but by 1980 there was another short-lived group called The Survivors “whose members are all ex-Living Force”, wrote the Auckland Star.
By 1980 The Survivors: Mann, Absolum and Eddie Hansen, were playing as The Spys, a new wave band with cropped blond hair. They released two singles, one 'Daddy Was A DJ' on Ripper Records, and a second 'Plastic Love' on RCA. They then, in 1981, toured China, claiming – truthfully – to be the first Western rock act to do so, predating Wham! by some four years.
Mann still plays guitar and performs mostly on Australia’s Gold Coast, sometimes with Eddie Hansen in a Krishna-inspired group called Mantra. Eddie Hansen recently reformed Ticket – the group that has been called “New Zealand’s ultimate acid band” – touring New Zealand in 2012.
Living Force were inexplicably teamed with punksters The Suburban Reptiles at a disastrous Victoria University gig in August 1977 by the Student Arts Council
Harvey Mann - guitar
Glen Absolum - drums
Eddie Hansen - guitar
Murray Partridge - guitar
Ivan Thompson - keyboards
Gary Clarke - bass
John Pepper - keyboards
Mike Fisher - drums
Matt Matepi - bass