A free-spirited existence led this Scottish singer-songwriter towards a transformative experience
I was born in Stirling, Scotland, into quite an unstable situation. My birth mother and father had mental health problems, so I was in and out of foster care with my younger brother and older sister. It was a frightening and confusing time. When I was four, I met my adoptive parents who made sure we were all kept together as a family unit, and we were raised by our Heggie parents who wanted us to feel as normal as possible, but also kept us informed of the reality of our situation. Our adoptive parents immediately felt like our parents and it was a magical transition. I was a very extreme person, mood-wise. I could be very detached and shy but also very confident and outgoing. I loved to read and write, and my uncle taught me to play piano but, until my early twenties, music was a very private thing to me.
I was definitely always creative. I wrote extensively. I didn't rebel much (though I had my moments) as I felt I could express and live whatever I wanted to in writing. I’m glad my parents encouraged my hobbies, although I resented the over-protective, strictness of my parents and my obedience to them.
After my university years, my partner (at the time) and I sold our possessions, gave up our flat, got some equipment together, and embarked on a pilgrimage from France to Santiago in Spain. When we came back to the UK we were still in the habit of living in a tent and busking. When we came to Edinburgh, I felt an overwhelming urge to be an independent woman. It was quite intense. I literally ran away – a habit I'd formed and still haven't outgrown.
Music has undoubtedly saved me. It has to save me every day, actually
I wanted to be a free spirit, a nomad. But I was isolating myself from friends and getting lost in my own world. I lived in Aberdeen, Glasgow, London, Grangemouth and Edinburgh. I lived with artists and bohemians, drop-outs and ‘junkies’. I hitchhiked, couch-surfed and went from relationship to relationship. I stole from supermarkets to feed myself, ate in convents, lived in homeless hostels, accepted clothing from clothing banks and, at one point, went walking for days non-stop without anything but a thin blanket and a 'Beat Poet' anthology. I was periodically disenchanted, paranoid, unable to be around people for more than a few minutes without feeling extremely disturbed, and I also romanticised the hobo existence. It was wild and fun at times, but I can say for sure that I was motivated by turmoil.
I do think that, for the most part, mental health and homelessness go hand in hand. Coping is a day to day thing. Small measures of success can be as simple as: not doing something stupid. I was building myself in the privacy of my own ideals, but with my life moving so fast and without moral support, it was hard.
It was due to severe distress that I ended up in a psychiatric hospital, but it really was a transformative time and space. I was still at university - about 20 at the time and my life had spiralled out of control in ways. A sweet boy named Tony taught me my first chords in hospital. I wanted to smash something or hurt myself but instead I spotted a guitar and started playing it with very little knowledge. I wrote my first song there and then. I discovered my voice and felt ecstatic to share it with the other patients, who were so receptive that they all kept asking me to play more. I was encouraged and loved for my playing and singing. Since then, a guitar has been by my side.
I remember the day I thought to myself, ‘It’s time I got a house, I'm ready for it.’ And, no joke, that day I received a call offering me my first PSL tenancy after waiting out a patient residence in a distressingly strict hostel. Unfortunately, around this time, my mum passed away. I think a part of me wanted to grow up a bit out of respect to her. I'm not saying the homeless situation was due to being childish, but something like a family death can have a strange way of giving perspective.
Not long after hospital, I was stranded in Stirling. I just sat on a bench in the middle of the city and sang songs, like Blowing in the Wind. Someone came up to me and liked my sound and invited me to my first gig.
That first gig felt golden. Shaky, but golden. It was like making an inspirational speech, and then having a few pints afterwards and listening to somebody else’s inspiring speech. Some people would describe how I made them feel, and this would enhance what I felt. It's easy for people to fall in love over music too, which makes life more interesting.
People will notice that I tilt the guitar upwards. For me, this is a symbol of freedom, pointing towards the sky. I'm flying when I sing. I am who I really am, not the personality that has been built as a defence mechanism or an awkward response to the confusion of social life. I have progressed at a rate that I never believed possible. My confidence in this area astounds me. Music has undoubtedly saved me. It has to save me every day, actually.
I feel I can be myself with a crowd - no tricks, no gimmicks, just me, and that brings something out in people. It is very reciprocal, very symbiotic. I have my bad days, where I stammer or pause for too long and forget what I was going to say, but there is always positive feedback. I've even had meltdowns on stage but just moulded it into the performance and people react so kindly with openness.
I am learning to bring wit and humour into my songs, so that it actually gives me the freedom to go darker and deeper but softening the edges. There is a lot of confessional stuff, profundity, profanity, philosophy, sexuality, social commentary, and conspiracy. I've yet to write a simple love song.
I don't think I would change anything in my life, even although I want my mental health to improve. I know that it has been a direct influence and that's how I can learn to love it. I know that it’s improving alongside my music career. A huge part of ‘mental illness’ is just not being able to fully express yourself and be accepted for who you are. But if you stick to your goodness, you can connect with the goodness inside of other people.
I am now onto my fourth album. I am hopefully receiving some funding from ‘Changing Lives’ and from there, to fund an official Fringe show, record more music, maybe even learn to record on my own. My stage name is Roelle Blue if you want to find me on Facebook. My aim is to play at festivals and find a record label. I'm just putting one foot in front of the other and listening to the voice inside me.