In New Zealand, before 1970 men were men and women were grateful.
Pakeha New Zealand was barely 100 years old, the blood of the pioneers persisting, pumping thick and strong. The land was still being tamed; work needed sinew and muscle not fingers and pens. Apron strings were still heavily tied to the Mother Land but ultimately swiftly cast aside upon Mothers entrance into the Common Market.
It was a mans world.
Rugby, racing and beer. Sweat and toil. Men hunted, they provided, and so did women, either in the kitchen or in the bedroom.
New Zealand was and still is a land of contradictions. She was the first country in the world to give women the vote, but the first also to throw them the dish cloth and tea towel. There was genuine affection toward Maori, but this manifested itself in condescension. New Zealanders were generous, yet unthinkingly stole land they had no right to steal. At will they bastardized and and mis-pronounced the beautiful local tongue.
Within all this hubbub though, a national identity slowly started to emerge. A strong independent stand alone culture. A rugged, ‘sort it out, she’ll be right’ attitude toward life.
Peter Cape was a first generation Kiwi born to an English family and was the most unlikely minstrel of our early cultural emergence. Although through his music and cleverly crafted lyric he captured the essence of what it was like to be a kiwi man.
But what about the women you ask?
Well no need to worry about them, the sheila’s will be in the kitchen cutting the supper.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like Peter Cape’s folk music. I believe his life’s work is seriously underrated; while musically simple, lyrically it’s clever, and historically accurate – painfully so. His body of work is of significant importance to NZ – so on that count give me Peter Cape over Lorde any day.
It’s nostalgic to look back. But to appreciate it best you need to look back in with corrective lens of context not romance.
As for the man himself, Peter Cape was the perfect kiwi man. A complete and utter contradiction. Unusually for a singer he had a speech impediment which you can quite clearly hear in his vocals. He was Kiwi born to an English family. A man new to NZ but one who captured the essence of being a kiwi man perfectly. He was an ordained Anglican Priest, yet thought nothing of leaving his wife and children to follow the arts and crafts movement evolving in Nelson.
So what do I think of Peter Cape?
As a Musician I believe he was a talented man and I enjoy his music.
As a recorder of history – he was absolutely brilliant with perfect insight into the psyche of the Kiwi Male.
As a bloke, well I think he was probably a bit of a bastard.
But then again I think most men were back then.
It was all part of being a kiwi.
PS: When I hear Peter’s music – I hear the song of my father’s life.