Bruce Aitken is a good example of a person who has dedicated his life to the music industry, completed his apprenticeship in New Zealand with many groups, played countless clubs until the small hours, mixed with all the big names, wrote songs, released a few long forgotten recordings, and played behind the best, but as an excellent drummer, was never in the right seat at the right time to gain the recognition in New Zealand music history he probably deserved. So who is he ?
Bruce Aitken's story started in Invercargill in 1964 when he met Roger McLachlan and formed a duo called Rogers Dodgers. Playing mostly Beatles covers, in 1965 they added Lyall Baron on bass and Barry Withington on guitar. With this combination they started winning talent contests in the Southland area, including the Southland Talent Show. This led to bookings every weekend all over Southland playing mainly at dances. At that time they were also playing alongside other groups like Dave Kennedy and the Answer. Dave made his name a number of years later as a key member of Chapta and Link. When other touring New Zealand groups, such as the La De Da's and Lou and Simon, ventured into the area, they got to play as support. This led the Southland Times to do an article and dub them "New Zealand's Youngest Beat Group". Roger McLachlan went on to later become an early member of Australia's Little River Band in 1975, replacing original bass player Dave Orams.
The next band Bruce formed was called Sambuka, but this was hard for people to remember, so it was changed to Copyrite. Members included Graham and Keith Perkins and Al Johnston on keyboards. At this time Bruce got friendly with Murray Burns and they jammed together a bit. Murray later became a member of Mi-Sex.
In 1969 Bruce Aitken shifted to Wellington to finish his schooling and after that headed back to Invercargill where he formed a three-piece group called Savage. With Russel Knipe on guitar and Tony Ross on bass, they started writing songs and had a big following at Invercargill's 'Mini-Club'.
He returned to Wellington in 1972 and joined a heavy rock band called Heathen Grace. Members of that group were Richie Waitai on keyboards and saxophone, Paul Waitai on guitar, Wayne Tairoa on bass and vocals, and Evan MacGreggor on guitar, and Bruce on drums. They entered the Wellington Battle of the Bands competition that year and were successful winners. Venturing to Auckland to do the same, they weren't quite as successful. Back in Wellington they were offered the residency vacated by the Quincy Conserve at the Downtown Club. The group stayed in residency there until they broke up.
Out of the remnants of that group, a new one was formed, called Boothill. Members were Richie Waitai on saxophone, Cyril Tibbles on keyboards, Tony Wiarea on saxophone, Harry Kamaru on guitar, Wayne Tairoa on bass and Bruce on drums. They mainly played around the clubs and pubs in Wellington and the Hutt Valley. They got the job of backing the many touring solo artists at the time. These included Howard Morrison, Anna Leah, Ray Columbus, Ray Woolf, Maria Dallas, John Hore and several others. At this time Richard Waitai and Bruce were writing songs that the band played, along with the usual covers of the day.
In 1975 Bruce Aitken joined a band from Christchurch, who had relocated themselves to Wellington. They were called Gratis Kinetic and the members were John MaCrae on vocals, Greg Mooney on guitar, Steve Galvin on bass, Murray Watts on organ and Bruce Aitken on drums. They signed up with Pye Records and released one single on the Family Label called "Takin' All"/"Turn To Stone" in 1975. The group toured up and down the country for about a year, playing mostly at pubs and clubs. They were very popular in Palmerston North, playing often at the Awapuni Hotel. They also had a large following in Napier, New Plymouth and Christchurch.
In 1976 Bruce Aitken moved to Queenstown for a few months to play drums for the Bill Whiting Band at the Skyline Restaurant. Following this he moved back to Wellington where he formed Wellington's first jazz rock band called Raz, short for rock 'n jazz. This group consisted of Bruce on drums and lead vocals, Paul Waitai on guitar, Neil Inwood on keyboards, Alan Burdon on percussion, Roland Farmer, who had previously been with the In-Betweens, on bass, and two backing vocalists, Peta and Olivia. They worked a residency at the Royal Tavern, sharing it with Malcolm Hayman's Captain Custard. (Malcolm was ex-Quincy Conserve). Bruce and Neil Inwood wrote eight songs and Raz recorded them at Miramar Studios, but they were never released. Several more of Bruce's songs were also recorded at Sausage Studios in Wellington and these also remain in the can.
Bruce Aitken was asked to go to Australia in 1979 to play once more with the Bill Whiting Band, who had moved over there. They did several recordings of Bill's material, but nothing came of it so the band folded. Bruce, staying in Australia, then moved on to work with underground band Banana Republic, but this was short lived. They also recorded lots of material but nothing ever surfaced.
During the mid-eighties through to the early nineties Bruce Aitken played in mainly cabaret bands backing lots of recording artists and jamming with lots of his friends. One such band he played with was called Daddyo and they released a single called "Twenty Flight Rock"/"Don't Pass Me By" that got its share of airplay. Daddyo consisted of Bruce on drums, also Jim Lawery on drums, Dieter Burmester on bass, Billy Hood on vocals and Blair Allen on guitar.
After Bruce Aitken left Daddyo, he and Dieter Burmester formed a song writing partnership and recorded several songs. One of the songs, "Don't Take My Monkey" was used by an independent film maker for a short documentary on bungy jumping. They also released "Tango Night" under the name Fat Cat, a group that consisted of Bruce and Dieter, Blair Allen from Daddyo on guitar, Annabelle Lentle on vocals, Peter Allison on keyboards and Greg Christiansen on backing vocals. The song had been recorded in Wellington and received a lot of airplay around New Zealand as well as in Dieter's home land of Germany. They were invited to tour Germany, but by this time Annabelle Lentle had become Jordan Reyne and she was not interested.
Bruce Aitken shifted to Melbourne in 1993 and shortly afterwards joined the Rosicrusians, who recorded a CD called "Skinny". Bruce also appeared on one track of their second CD. After that he joined up with a legendary name in Australian rock, Lobby Loyde, to form Fish Tree Mother. They recorded several songs in Lobby's home studio, but again nothing has surfaced.
In 1998 Bruce Aitken moved to Canada, taking up residence at Cape Breton Island, where he is still playing with the cream of the islands top players. He is still recording and teaching drums. He has become the founder and organiser of the Cape Breton International Drum Festival, the largest of its type in Eastern Canada. He has become quite renowned there and now endorses Paiste Cymbals, Pro-Mark Drumsticks and Rhythm Tech Percussion. More can been seen of what Bruce is now up to by visiting his own website at http://www.cbdrumfest.com/.
As can be seen by this story, Bruce Aitken never became a household name, but it is true of so many artists like him, that some of the big names in New Zealand music history wouldn't have been there if it wasn't for people like Bruce sitting behind them and providing them with such excellent musical backing.