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Meet The Not Normals – the Oban band whose members say it has changed their lives

Thomas Ferris started the initiative, which brings together people from all walks of life.

Singing is a huge part of the Oban Music Group who call themselves of the Not Normals.
Oban Soup Kitchen band The Not Normals, support each other through social issues photographed at practice in the town. (left to right) Ann Buchanan, Laura Black, Jennifer Radcliffe and Margaret Cooper. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson.

A woman is belting out a ballad in front of a crowd gathering on a rainy afternoon in Oban Parish Church Hall.

In the past, performing in front of people would have caused Jennifer Radcliffe so much anxiety she would simply not have left her home.

But thanks to a worker at Oban’s Hope Kitchen, Thomas Ferris – who is known as Tam – she has now performed in cafes, hotels and has even sung in the town’s cathedral.

Oban music group leader Tam Ferris.
Tommy Sharp (left) and Thomas Ferris playing for Oban Music Group. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson.

People from all walks of life come together to form The Not Normals every Friday.

The name was chosen by the members who travel far and wide to make music together.

For most, the weekly group is a form of healing.

Hope kitchen worker Tam Ferris behind Oban Music Group

The initiative grew out of Mr Ferris’ desire to bring people together at the community kitchen in a way that was not sitting down and listening to a lecture.

He said: “I want people to take part, I want them to be part of something.

“I have always played music, and I played the guitar. When I started the group I did not know if it would take off, but it has.”

People travel far and wide to the group.

In the morning, Hope Kitchen organise lessons for people in various musical instruments and singing lessons are provided by the local band The Catalina Sisters comprised of Ann Buchanan and Margaret Cooper.

In the afternoon, the real fun begins as a full-on gig takes place.

Tommy Sharp, 73, said: “I played, back in the day in various bands, but nowadays not so much. And I  missed it.

Oban music group atendee Laura Black.
Laura Black has gained quite a reputation as a singer. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson.

“It really helps to play with people and to get out the house.”

38-year-old Michael MacPhee is helped by his sister Lally to get to the weekly event.

He was left with two titanium plates in his head following a serious accident and at times has feared he would never fully recover.

He said: “Being part of this group has really helped me recover from a serious accident.

“The group is the highlight of the week.

“It gets me out of the house, and I am meeting with people and being part of singing and playing old and new songs that make me feel normal.”

“Coming to the music group has really helped me get better. It makes me feel normal. It is enjoyable.

“Tam is a naturally nice man and he is so supportive.”

Inclusive group

Laura Black, 38, enjoys singing, but after suffering from memory problems she felt she was unable to share her singing voice with anyone else.

She said: “I have fragmented memory so going outside my front door can be a problem.

“But the music group is inclusive and that makes it a pleasure to be here – everyone is so accepting.”

Michael McPhee has begun to regain confidence thanks to the music group in Oban, after a serious accident.
Michael McPhee enjoys attending the group every Friday. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson.

Emma MacDougall, 37, says the group gives her a chance to shine.

She said: “I really like the group, it is really good. I like it when people listen to me when I am here.

“I like it when I am learning new songs.”

Tam added: “The thing is that everyone has a voice or a skill and we just want to make music together wherever we can get a gig.

“The band has called themselves The Not Normals, and it is amazing to see the group perform.

“I have had to learn dozens of songs for everyone who wants to sing, I have even learned new instruments.

Oban music group Jannifer Radcliffe.
Jennifer Radcliffe not only sings but also plays the guitar. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson.
Oban music group singer Emma MacDougall.
Singer Emma MacDougall. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson.

“Everyone is welcome at the group – and we love people of all abilities taking part.

“People come to the group because they love music, and because they love making music together – we are all one group.

“Belonging to the group is life-changing for many people who come along.”