Peter Cape Profile

Michael Brown
18 Mar 2014

Dance halls and boozy parties, deer culling and ferry trips, cow cockies and café society: the subjects of Peter Cape’s ballads say it all. Where most local popular music of the early 1960s took cues from overseas, Cape seemed incapable of not writing songs about New Zealand.

Peter Irwin Cape (1926-1979) grew up seeing the country from many sides. His family sold fabric around the upper North Island, living out of caravans and travelling rural byways. “I had little time to stop, make deep friendships,” Cape later recalled. “I could indulge a leaning toward speculation and fantasy. And ... with a canoe, a dog, and an airgun, and a wide variety of country around me, I could explore worlds of fact as well as fantasy.”

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The 1960 Peter Cape EP entitled simply Sings Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauatamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu
Photo credit: Simon Grigg collection
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Taumarunui (On The Main Trunk Line)
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An Evening Post photo of Peter Cape with guitar and family in April 1960
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Sheltered by his friend and mentor, Don Toms, Peter Cape seeks inspiration on a Wellington tramcar
Photo credit: Photo by John M. Thomas
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Peter Cape in Gisborne, 1960
Photo credit: Gisborne Photo News
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The 1961 EP She'll Be Right
Photo credit: Chris Bourke collection
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Peter Cape (right) at The Monde Marie, a folk club on the corner of Majoribanks and Roxburgh streets in Wellington, circa 1960/62
Photo credit: Jane Seddon collection
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Pat Rogers EP with two Peter Cape songs including Taumarunui, issued by Kiwi in 1960
Photo credit: Simon Grigg collection
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Folksinger Phil Garland reports that Cape’s most famous song, ‘Taumarunui’, has now spread to Australia, where they sing about “Cootamundra on the Main Trunk Line.”

Cape was playing tea-chest bass at a concert for Mt Crawford Prison when he had to perform an impromptu item. His Kiwi ballad was so well-received by the inmates, so the story goes, that he was inspired to write more and eventually record them.

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