When we first took the Ladders programme to Sunderland, Tom Hawick was one of the students who took part in the Music sector. I was thrilled to chat with him over a coffee in Newcastle City Centre, to find out more about his Ladders experience and finding his musical niche in the North East…

First off, when did your passion for music arise? Was it something you learned in school, or a hobby?

I supposed this is one of those questions that you never really know how to answer. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment! But I suppose it started with my Dad having this walkman and he used to play songs by Lindisfarne and bands like that. This was when I was about 5 or 6 years old and so from then, that’s when I really started getting interested in music. I started buying records when I was 10 and I bought a £70 starter kit with a guitar, amps and picks. Think I got it from Aldi or something, haha!

Haha, you do get some good bargains there to be fair!

You do, you really do! But yeah, once I had that, I just went from there and I’ve been playing for quite a few years now. It’s only been the past couple of years where I have really begun to take it seriously.

So, you play the guitar – are you quite involved in a specific genre?

I play in such a wide variety really. When I first started playing, I was into a lot of folk music, like Nick Drake and John Lennon which in a way, has shaped how my band plays because all of our songs aren’t exactly conventional.

But I guess the perks of falling into different genres is being able to take elements of that to apply to your own style, right?

Exactly, and that’s what we’re trying to do which I think we have already achieved relatively well to be honest – by trying to showcase a variety of influences. But I think our main goal is to make ourselves sound like we are from Sunderland.

Ah, interesting! So, you want to really use your roots as a way to build your own musical style. That’s quite rare actually because I don’t think I know of many bands who take so much pride in that area and it’s refreshing to see that.

Absolutely, and to be fair it’s understandable why so many people don’t use Sunderland as an area to take inspiration from but there’s always something exciting to find in a place.

Exactly, and you’ve certainly found a gap in the market by acknowledging that.

That’s the thing. One of my favourite bands from the North East is probably the only mainstream success from Sunderland and that was a long time ago. I suppose, in a sense, I have admired what they have done, and I want to bring that pride back in Sunderland.

Cool! Well going on to Ladders, how did you stumble across it?

Ross, from The Futureheads, told me about it – he mentioned it and said I should just go for it. So, I did!

Were you hesitant at first, would you say?

Sort of. I would say it is the most formal thing I’ve had to do in terms of Music and so I didn’t really know what to expect. It was actually a nice idea to actually meet people and work on our own projects.

In terms of the experience in general, were there any moments you enjoyed in particular such as the tours or working on final projects?

I particularly enjoyed the sessions at the Miners Hall Studio. I’ve been there before but it was nice because it was such a collaborative environment. The project I did wasn’t that collaborative, but it was nice to hear other people’s ideas. Of course, I enjoyed the Newcastle tours too, but I think that was my highlight.

Would you say that Ladders helped you figure out exactly what you wanted to do moving forward?

For me, it definitely cemented it. I knew that by the time I started the course, I wanted to do music more often and potentially apply for Uni. But when we were in the studio and Sam [Music Mentor] was showing us the software he uses – I was surprised at how quick I caught on and it sort of gave me the confidence to study it at University. I’m off to do Music Production now. Although I had thought about it, and it helped that my bandmates were going to do the same course, Ladders gave me a clearer idea of what I wanted to do.

How did you find Sam, the Music Mentor?

Sam was great. He’s got so much experience – been there, done it in the sense that he had a record deal, been on tour and so on. So, it’s nice to be able to talk to someone with that level of experience. And it helps that he’s friendly and approachable. After sessions, I’d often just sit there and chat with him for a bit about anything, not just music. But it was also interesting just hearing about the film music work he’s doing and his work with Border Scout because it was so different compared to his older stuff. It was nice to see how things can change over time.

Do you think seeing Sam’s journey helped you gain a wider perspective of what the music industry is really like? Because it’s almost like a curtain drops isn’t it when you see what’s going on behind the scenes?

Yeah, it’s a lot more complicated than you think. The X Factor certainly makes you think it’s a lot simpler – win a competition, get loads of money and get a record deal and it’s just not like that! It was nice to talk to someone who knew the mechanics behind the music industry. I have heard of PPL and PRS but I had no idea what it did, so he explained that very well. In terms of musical production, we didn’t really get to do much in the studio due to time constraints, so it was very much to do with taught lectures. But I think it has driven me to become a better musician. I have found myself playing more and it has made it seem more like a reality and that’s probably due to the fact that I now have more understanding of what the industry is like and what role I want to have in it.

Going back to what you’re doing now – you briefly mentioned going to University. What are your plans?

So at the moment, I’m volunteering at Pop Recs and I’m at Sixth Form doing Biology, Psychology and English Literature…and I’m going back to my roots musically at the moment. I fell out of it by being in the band for the past few years but I’m hoping to get back into it. The band is still going, we’re called Roxy Girls and it’s going pretty well. We recorded an EP in December and had a good response. That also gives you that bit of confidence as a band. I’m going to Leeds College of Music in September to study Music Production. Although there is a scene in the North East, it’s quite spread out whereas Leeds has so many venues, there’s something on every night of the week. I’d say that the scene in Newcastle is the case of, you only ever hear about what’s going on if you go to more events so you’re almost stuck in terms of finding out where to go.

Agreed. It’s almost hidden and you have to dig it out to find out what’s going on. Do you think Newcastle and Sunderland could musically build as a community?

Of course. I think even in the past few years, it has changed so much. I think in terms of the music scene and young people, there aren’t enough bands. Compared to ten years ago, there used to be a night put on by the guitarist from a band called Death in Vegas. That was where bands played their first gigs and it was always well attended – there were always bands from Newcastle and Sunderland playing alongside each other which is very rare. But now there’s just not enough movement between the two cities. There’s potential though.

I guess one last question would be, would you recommend Ladders?

Yes, I would. There’s a guy from the Sunderland cohort now who I suggested it to and he’s really enjoying it. It’s not as if you’re going into something and learning how to be just one role, like a music producer. What it gives you, is an idea of what it’s like to be one and if anything, it just gives you that inspiration and motivation to pursue whatever you want to do.

Check out Tom’s band, Roxy Girls:

Bandcamp – https://roxygirls.bandcamp.com/ 

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/roxygirlssunderland/


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