How songwriting gave Ben strength to get through his darkest times

Musician Ben Westwood
Musician Ben Westwood

Sing Like Your Life Depends On It is the title of the debut album from a local musician who knows exactly what that means.

Ben Westwood, who lives in Polegate, has poured heart and soul into his songs following the death of his wife Carolina from breast cancer.

He has come up with a heartfelt and personal collection of acoustic-led songs which tell the tale of his relationship and marriage, from the optimism and energy of early days falling in love to the intense sorrow of losing his soulmate in 2013, and life after.

Ben, a lecturer at Brighton University in Hastings, take his listeners on a journey from the start right through to his subsequent struggles as a single father offering an honest and raw portrait of grief, definace and hope.

His album is released later this month - on February 24 - and Ben is partnering with Winston’s Wish and Widowed & Young (WAY), with both bereavement charities receiving a share of the album revenue.

The first half of the album begins with vibrantly optimistic songs written before his wife Carolina’s illness– the catchy single Falling, the uplifting Let in The Light, and beautiful ballad We’ve Got it Made, co-produced by legendary Stuart Epps.

The second half navigates through grief – from the heart-wrenching I Miss You, to the dark intensity of Hold Me ‘til it Hurts, and the soothing conclusion of Time, Heal Me, I Will Never Leave You and Moment of Peace. His music blends bluesy folk-rock with soulful ballads, and has drawn comparisons with Leonard Cohen, Cat Stevens and James Blunt, while key musical influences include The Beatles and Bob Dylan

Ben was married for 14 years and his children are now aged 9 and 11.

The pair met when they were young - Ben graduated from university and then met Carolina in Ecuador while he was travelling. They lived in England for several years and spent more time in Ecuador, before settling in this country.

Carolina became ill and was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in October 2011. They soon realised she was terminally ill, and she passed away in June two years later.

Ben has since found losing himself in music a cathartic experience although the written word also has played a major role in recovery.

“I had been writing ever since I was a teenager,” he said. “And I remember listening to a radio programme about the life of John Lennon, very personal about him, his problems, his losses - he had a lot of tragedy in his life - and he poured the lot into his songwriting. I remember when I was a teenager how that first inspired me.

“When my wife got ill I didn’t play my music for years and I didn’t write a song for the best part of four years. I had written articles about being a widower, and poured a lot into writing, but now writing songs for me is the most powerful expression. I didn’t set out to make an album, I just thought I should go and record some of my old songs, but then I started writing new ones. I Miss You was the first one which was very intense. I started working on more and I started using it as an outlet, songs that had anger, songs about trying to move on. I realised that was what I needed to do. The album has ended up being light and dark..the first half is light and the second half is dark. The first half songs before Carolina got ill are about love, nostalgia, happiness, and the second half songs I have written since, getting through grief, songs about loss and songs about healing.”

Ben finds there are certain songs on the album which he finds too hard to listen to and doesn’t play live, such as I Will Never Leave.

Ben has played at venues and on radio throughout the South-East, and has received recent media coverage as a widowed single father, including an appearance on ITV This Morning.

He combines music with journalism, lecturing, travel writing, and has published several books - www.benwestwoodmusic.com