When Balhousie Care Group’s Gail Melville performs at Sleep in the Park in Dundee this Saturday, it will be a special moment for the musician and artist in more ways than one.
For Gail, who is part of the musical line-up at the Social Bite event, the cause of homelessness is close to her heart. “Homelessness is very real to me. I was almost there myself, twice,” she says.
When Gail picks up her acoustic guitar for a set of rock and folk cover songs at Slessor Gardens, among the audience will be 200 of her colleagues from Balhousie Care Group. As a corporate sponsor of Sleep in the Park Dundee, the care home group has its own ‘sleep zone’ where participants will bed down in sleeping bags for the night to raise money for Social Bite.
Gail, who goes under the stage name That Girl Gail, is often to be found performing in venues around Scotland, particularly Angus and Tayside. She also entertains residents of Balhousie Care Group, which has 25 care homes in the north of Scotland.
Born in Dundee and raised in Angus, Gail, while still at school, left home at 15 and had her first private rented flat by 16. Disagreements at home and constraints within the religious sect Gail was raised in led to her being shunned by her family and congregation, which forced Gail to carve out a new life for herself.
After finishing school, Gail worked her way up in the fashion retail trade, married and bought a property, then at the age of 23 had a mental breakdown. “My mental health problems resulted in the break-up of my marriage and the loss of my job. I couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage. One day I came home to find myself locked out. My house had been repossessed. Although it didn’t feel like it at the time, I was lucky as the council found me a place to live very quickly.
“I’ve never slept on the street because I’ve been lucky and had friends looking out for me. At 15 I moved in with my sister who at that point was still in contact with me. We didn’t have much in the way of money or material things, but we had each other. I know that feeling of not having a base, not having a place to call home. My home and my family were just up the road but I couldn’t go to them. It was utterly devastating.”
Gail comes from a musical family and had always sung and performed. When she was pregnant with her daughter, she started teaching herself guitar. But after the birth of her daughter she had another mental breakdown and was diagnosed with post-natal depression and anxiety disorder. She committed herself for psychiatric treatment and went on to find healing and purpose in music and art.
“The first attempt I made at ending my life was at 14, and since then I’ve been diagnosed with everything from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to bipolar disorder. I’ve had counselling and psychiatry. Music and art gave me an outlet, a purpose, and helped me realise that I wasn’t the complete failure I felt I was.” says Gail, 41.
When That Girl Gail takes to the stage on Saturday, she’ll have an audience of thousands as she joins some of her own favourite artists – among them Amy Macdonald, Kyle Falconer and KT Tunstall – up on stage.
Is she nervous? Gail Melville is, but That Girl Gail is taking it in her stride. Gail explains:
“When I started doing gigs I was so nervous my legs would shake, so I always sat in a chair. My first ‘stand-up’ music gig was in 2010 at the Station Bar in Arbroath as part of the town’s Sea Fest festival. A member of the public recognised me afterwards and said, “You’re that girl Gail’.”
The name stuck. “It made sense because I saw the girl up on the stage as a different person. That Girl Gail was the confident me, the capable one. She didn’t care about what everybody else thought, she just did her thing,” says Gail.
Years on, the real Gail is more confident too, although she calls herself a “work in progress”.
“I know how to take care of myself. I now recognise the signs of decline in my mental health and I make sure to address them early, whether that’s by creating more art and music, taking time out for meditation or a long walk surrounded by nature,” she says.
Gail also gets pleasure entertaining residents and staff at Balhousie Care Group. As marketing assistant for the Perth-based firm, it’s her job to visit care homes regularly. Now she often takes her guitar with her. “You never know when you may be in a position to have a singalong with the residents. They love joining in, whether it’s an Elvis cover or The Corries and for me, if I can make someone smile and feel happy then it’s been a good day.”
This is the second time the award-winning Balhousie Care Home group has supported Sleep in the Park. Twenty members of staff, including company chairman Tony Banks, braved sub-zero temperatures as they bunked down in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens last year. Raising more than £15,000, Balhousie was one of the top corporate fundraisers at the 2017 event.
Sleep in the Park is taking place across four cities – Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee – with an estimated 12,000 people participating. Social Bite, which addresses homelessness through its cafes, restaurants and free food distribution in Scotland, is aiming to build on last year’s fundraising total of £4 million.
Amy Macdonald and KT Tunstall are ‘busking’ at all four venues, travelling between each by helicopter. Other performers across the cities include Eddi Reader, Frightened Rabbit, Lulu and The View’s Kyle Falconer.