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Since 1st March, 1999
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Hip to the music
Brand new Hip Pocket frontman Ben Westley strikes a pose at The Park. Picture by Rashbehari Das

Unlike the usual horn-handed rocker, the first thing that strikes you about Ben Westley is his shy restraint. But hand him a microphone and watch him swing into action as he belts out a Pink Floyd anthem with a conviction that belies his nature. That’s Ben, the new voice of Hip Pocket who has quietly got the HP fans and PYTs at Park Street’s watering hole swinging — and swooning.

The 22-year-old was inducted into the 13-year-old rock’n’roll band a month back, when Hip Pocket drummer and founder Nondon Bagchi offered him a spot among the old-timers as a replacement for the band’s former vocalist. “I’d go to Someplace Else on Fridays to listen to Hip Pocket. Playing with them for a Christmas Eve show last year was a big high. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it as a singer but now I’m ready to roll,” smiles Ben, who works at a BPO when not performing with the band.

The Kalimpong boy has had his vocal skills carefully honed at Dr Graham’s Homes, where he studied and sang all genres, from pop to classical, as a part of the choir. Ben had already paid several visits to Calcutta as a part of Dr Graham’s Homes’ 50-member choir, performing for the Children’s City Concert. He made the city his home four years ago.

“We would do gospel singing as well as pop and rock numbers. Every morning, we’d sing hymns in bass and natural notes. That helps me today in projecting my voice, getting the harmonies right and catching on to seconds and thirds more easily when singing other songs,” says the choir leader and ex-Xaverian. “Even now, when they come to perform, I try and join them for the winter concert in Calcutta.”

From gospel to dance numbers, the boy from the hills has been game for all kinds of music before starting out with his own college band, Cuspid, following a short stint with Barefoot. “We started doing more of glam rock, like Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and Ugly Kid Joe. That’s the genre I enjoy the most,” says Ben, who also used his vocals to fill in for various city band singers till Hip Pocket signed him on. “I was a little nervous at first. I didn’t want to let down the listeners used to the usual Hip Pocket sound,” he smiles.

Ben promises to bring in a fresh feel to Hip Pocket’s classic rock sound with his repertoire of Stevie Wonder, Bon Jovi and Van Halen. “I’ve picked up most of the songs from the Hip Pocket list, but they’re also giving me an opportunity to try my own stuff. It’ll make for a slight difference in their usual sound.” His only hitch: “I still haven’t opened up as much as I should as a professional singer. Maybe I need to start interacting a little more with the crowd!”

Mohua Das

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