Jude Southerland Kessler
Liverpool Son Turns Trial to Triumph
Dave Bedford, author of Liddypool, The Fab One Hundred and Four, and Finding the Fourth Beatle, sits down with Jude Southerland Kessler to talk about how the trials of his life were transformed into small miracles...
Dave, you and I are friends, so I know the "at-moments-tragic" but ultimately "miraculous" story of how you left the work-a-day world and became an inspired and inspiring author. Please tell our friends out there in Beatle-land about your journey. How did you come to write Liddypool: Birthplace of The Beatles?
I grew up in The Dingle, by the bottom of Madryn Street where Ringo was born, and I attended St. Silas School from 1969, where Ringo had gone to school. I lived in The Dingle until I was 24, and our first house after getting married was two streets up from Admiral Grove where Ringo lived from the age of 5.
In 1989, we moved out to Mossley Hill, and now live just off Penny Lane. We have 3 daughters who were all born at Oxford Street Maternity Hospital where John was born, and all attended Dovedale Primary School where John and George were schooled. With all of this around me, it was obvious that my career would be in................insurance!
Yep, from school, I joined Norwich Union (now Aviva) in underwriting and worked up to a Business Development Manager, which was a great, and well-paid job. However, back in 1998, I started to feel pain in my shoulder which gradually spread to my arms, hands and then legs. I was wrongly diagnosed and treated for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), and eventually signed off work back in 2000 as I couldn’t cope with the pain and several other symptoms not associated with RA.
After 12 more months of throwing different tablets down my throat, without any affect, I was sent for a second opinion to a different consultant, who confirmed that I didn’t have RA, but fibromyalgia (FM)! I had never heard of it before, and had to do some research to find out what the heck it was. In brief terms, for me, it means chronic pain in every joint, ligament, tendon and muscle in my body 24/7, and it is rheumatic, meaning it is aggravated by damp/ wet weather, so living in a damp/ wet English city is not a good idea!
Fibromyalgia brings with it sleep disturbance, forgetfulness, mood swings, lethargy, and so much more, so I now have the pleasure of up to 18 tablets a day! At the age of 35, with three small children, my doctor told me I would probably never work again, which was devastating. My employer has been incredible, and placed me on a pension scheme and really took care of me. My wife has been unbelievable, and everything they say about “behind every man is a great woman” is completely true. I couldn’t have done it, and continue to get by, without her love and support. My daughters have been fantastic too.
So, there I was, with a few useless school qualifications and no chance of a career, and no job to do. My doctors told me it was a battle of the mind, and to find something to keep me occupied and interested. So, when Yoko Ono turned up at Dovedale School with a huge donation to support our work, I wanted to write about it. Through a friend, Stan Williams – who had attended Dovedale with Lennon and Harrison – I was introduced to the London Beatles Fan Club (which is now the British Beatles Fan Club, which I help to run) and I started to write about The Beatles in Liverpool. I found my interest.
I went out and bought a copy of Bill Harry’s “John Lennon Encyclopedia” and realised there was so much Beatles history all around me, and I decided, with Bill’s inspiration, to write my own little book about The Beatles and Liverpool. Shouldn’t take long, I thought! Well, it became my obsession, and it took me the next 9 years to research and write Liddypool.
The blessing of disability, as I call it! I couldn’t have done it if I was fit and healthy and in work. Sometimes, God’s blessings are disguised – and this one was HEAVILY disguised!!
If you had to write a thesis statement or tell someone in one or two sentences about the theme of your book, Liddypool: Birthplace of The Beatles, what would you say? (And don't say, "Liverpool is the birthplace of The Beatles," or I'll smash you up.)
To understand The Beatles, you have to understand Liverpool. You can only understand Liverpool if it is your life, your hometown, your childhood and your adult years. You can’t just visit Liverpool and think, “I get it now.” I understand Liverpool, and now I understand The Beatles, I can explain it to fans.
How is your book different from P. Willis-Pitts' Liverpool, The Fifth Beatle or Bill Harry's Liverpool: Bigger Than The Beatles? What special insights do you offer to readers?
Special insights? My 47 years on this planet, my 9 years researching the book, and a passion for the truth about the greatest band there was, or will be.!!
To know about Ringo, you have to understand The Dingle, because it is nothing like Woolton, or Allerton. I was there until I was 24: I know the Dingle. I have spent the last 20 years around Penny Lane and Allerton, and it took me years to realise the importance of the area to the childhood of John, Paul and George. I can tell the reader what the song of “Penny Lane” is really about: it isn’t just a whimsical nostalgia trip; there is so much more to it, and only spending so much time living here does it all make sense.
Liddypool is the book that I wanted to read, but couldn’t find. My years of research lead me to interview the people who were there at the time, like The Quarrymen, Pete Best, Allan Williams, Bill Harry, Julia Baird, Alistair Taylor and so many more. But I also wanted to chart the story from the beginning and find out how they became The Beatles, so for the first time, I have charted all the musicians and name changes until they became John, Paul, George and Ringo: and I found 27 musicians in the story. As well as the interviews and history, I have a full Guide Book included, detailing every location in and around Liverpool, with photographs and information, including all the schools, homes and venues.
Your gorgeous book holds a blend of new photographs and nostalgic ones...glimpses of The Beatles way back when. How difficult was it to get permission to use the "old photos"? How long did it take to collect, compile, permit, format, and write this book? Any interesting stories about that process?
It was 9 years, start to finish, and trying to find the photos was a task in itself, scouring agencies and local archives, with the help of those contributors to the book who kindly let me use their images.
One of the interesting stories centers on the way in which I ended up with all the research. One of the symptoms of fibromyalgia is forgetfulness – have I already mentioned that? Well, as I read a book, I would get to about 20 pages in and forget what I had read. So, I started making notes on the books I was reading: page number, information and relevance. This was just to help me. I ended up with pages of the stuff, and this is what I knocked into shape to become “Liddypool”. I still have that mass of paper!
I didn’t even approach a publisher! A writer, Marshall Terrill, came over from America to write about The Beatles and Liverpool, and I accompanied him for the day, showing him all the places. He was amazed by the information I was telling him and was eager to read my book. (It didn’t exist, except in my dreams!) So, I sent him a chapter; he rang his publisher, who offered me the deal.
Talk about blessed! We spent about 18 months editing and changing and shaping the book, with Marshall as editor. It was a painful process, but well worth doing it right!
You grew up in Liverpool and reside there now. Why is being a Scouser so crucial to understanding the heart of Liddypool?
It goes to my earlier point that you have to know the history of the city, and how the 800 years of our history was vital in shaping the lads who took on the world. We have a sense of family, togetherness, and multi-cultural integration that makes Liverpool unlike any other British city.
You need to know how the different nationalities that have influenced us, their music and culture, what it is to be a port nation and what it was like growing up during the War: all of these things affected The Beatles.
Liverpool is like a country in itself: we don’t feel part of England, the UK, or whatever. If you attack one, you attack us all. We have our own values and ethics, and very few people outside of Liverpool, in the UK, understand us, so how can the rest of the world? Look what happened when John was under attack for his “more popular than Jesus” comments. Paul, George and Ringo closed ranks around John. How many people actually broke through their friendship to get inside the Fab Four? Very few. Why? Because they didn’t understand that bond between Scousers that is unbreakable.
You need to know that every area in Liverpool is different: north and south Liverpool are different; each suburb is unique, and the area from which you come from determines who you are. In Liddypool, I break down every area, and give readers insight and information on each one – their relationship to each other and to The Beatles themselves.
Pete Best wrote the Foreword for Liddypool. How did you meet Pete and what can you tell readers about him that they might not know?
Before I wrote Liddypool, I (like many Beatles fans) “knew” that Pete Best was some drummer who wasn’t “good enough” so he got fired, and then Ringo joined The Beatles. Pete, I once believed, was moody, unreliable, not a great drummer…and he was lucky to have been a little part of the story, but not that important.
This was one of the many myths that I had to dispel on my way to finding the truth. Pete was a great drummer and is still a great drummer, and he’s widely respected in Liverpool. He was reliable and hard-working, and essential to the Beatles’ story.
The “moody” tag was a reference to a smouldering film-star, but Pete is in actuality fantastic and a fun personality who is good company. I have gotten to know him, and he is a great guy.
I met Pete in 2007 and was honoured to have him write the Foreword to Liddypool, because the biggest surprise that I uncovered in my research was The Casbah Club. It is a gem, and the greatest and most important Beatles’ place on this planet – a place I knew virtually nothing about it! Through research, I came to realise how important Mona Best, Pete’ s mother, was to the story of The Beatles. I was determined to tell the true story of The Casbah and Mona Best. Pete’s brothers, Rory and Roag, were also very helpful in my research.
I had the opportunity to interview Pete and spent a couple of hours with him, and have since met with him on a number of occasions. He is the perfect gentleman. I sent him my completed manuscript, and asked if he would consider writing the Foreword. Amazingly, he agreed. You can’t believe the honour that was and is, and I will always be grateful to Pete.
How did you become a Beatles fan? (Yes, THAT question...sorry!)
For me it was always, and always will be, about the music.
I started playing guitar at the age of 10, and the first music book I got, and still have, was The Beatles Complete. The songs are genius, and they’re as good now as they were when they were written. Plus, when you grow up with all of that history around you, it would be impossible to avoid them! The Beatles are an integral part of my life, and now I have my new life as an author as well.
I can’t escape!! Bill Harry is such a large part of the story of Liddypool. Tell us about Bill. What's John Lennon's dear friend like in "real life"?
Bill was my inspiration when I started on Liddypool, and the interview with him was the most revealing of all of the interviews I did, because I could suddenly understand what made John and Stuart do what they did, think what they did, and were inspired to achieve what they did. It was the biggest insight into the centre of The Beatles’ story.
Who is the most fascinating person that you've met in your research for Liddypool ?
That is such a hard question, because I have met so many fascinating people and find it hard to choose, but I’ve gone for Julia Baird, John’s half-sister. She is a fascinating lady whose own research for her book “Imagine This.....” uncovered stories about John’s childhood that made me completely re-think what I had been told.
When you realise that most of the information about John’s upbringing was from Aunt Mimi, and that she edited much of what was written about John, you start to doubt everything. Julia’s research, like my own, didn’t stop at “accepted history,” but, through her family, she was able to completely re-shape what we thought we knew. It was a revelation to her, and I have been privileged to follow her journey of discovery. She has shared so much about John that opened my eyes to really getting to know the real John Lennon. Julia is a delightful lady, and another person I am honoured to now call a friend.
Liddypool, I notice, is dedicated to your wife and children...and also to your sister, Judy. John's mother, Julia, was called "Judy" by her family...was your sister the inspiration to you that Julia was to John? Would you tell us about your Judy and how she impacted your life?
My Judy was my younger sister, who tragically died from cancer at the age of 40. We were always close, and through my own illness, she was always my inspiration and encouragement. Fortunately, before she died I was able to tell her that I had obtained a publishing deal, and I promised to dedicate the book to her.
Judy kept me going when times were tough and encouraged me all along the way to follow my dream. I am just sorry that she never got to see the finished book, but she is always there with me in spirit.
Her daughter, Hannah, was only young when her mum died, but we promised to watch over her as she grows up, and she is becoming more and more like her mum every day, which is mostly a good thing: Judy couldn’t half nag me! I miss her every day, but I am glad that I had the opportunity to immortalise her name in my book.
Have you got the writing “bug,” or will this be your only book? What is next?
Well, with my love for photography, I have filmed, produced, edited, narrated (and all that other stuff) a Liddypool DVD, which is a documentary taking viewers around Liverpool and telling the story through film and photos, which was great fun!
In 2013, my second book was published. Called “The Fab One Hundred and Four: The Evolution of The Beatles”, it grew out of Liddypool. I had a chapter called “The Fab 27” that charted the musicians from the first line up of the Quarrymen through to Ringo joining: 27 musicians. There was so much interest in this one chapter that it became a book in its “own write”, but the 27 had grown to 104 people! Still only covering up to the end of 1962, it has every musician that played with the group from the beginning, but also any other groups they played in, or other artists The Beatles backed on stage, plus I went before The Quarrymen and found those important people who taught The Beatles to play, or influenced them. And I even found the one guy nobody else had been able to find! The school friend of John who suggested that he should start a skiffle group: George Lee. Lots of previously untold stories and exclusive and unpublished photographs that you won’t find elsewhere.
And then a friend of mine said: ‘You’ve got 12 drummers in that book! Nobody has ever written the story of the drummers.’ And so my friend, Garry Popper, and I set off to write that book that is published in the summer 2018. Called “Finding the Fourth Beatle”, it tells the story of the 23 drummers who put the beat into The Beatles. Yes, 23! With an in-depth analysis of the key drummers, Pete Best, Ringo Starr and Jimmie Nicol. We dispel many myths, correct some famous stories, including solving the mystery that many have claimed to have solved: how and why The Beatles got rid of Pete Best. The headline is: forget what we’ve told since 1962, because Pete Best was never sacked! And I have the proof! But there is also an in-depth analysis of Ringo Starr’s drumming, and why he was the right man for the job, and why he is such a unique drummer and inspiration to many drummers.
Over the last 3 years, I have been working on the documentary feature film, “Looking for Lennon”, which has been such a privilege. To tell John’s story through the people who knew him best: family, friends, schoolmates, bandmates and college friends. This is the story of John before he was famous, and the tragedies of his young life and how that shaped him. I was historian, both off-screen and on-screen, as well as Associate Producer. What an honour. The film has been sold to North America, Brazil, UK, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, China and Japan. Soon I will be starting the book to accompany the film.
A few other projects in the pipeline too, including one on Liverpool and the American Civil War, which is fascinating, and one on the Country music scene in Liverpool in the 1960s. And a few others.
So, there will be more.............................
Dave, thank you for sharing your story, your talent, your heritage, and your intelligence & wit with the world. Your book is not just "a coffee table book." It's a rare and accurate history, an entrancing glimpse into another world. Thank you for giving us that legacy in words and pictures. We treasure it.