First meeting, 1976 – Part 2
In tribute to Louis Jouannard
If I had to project onto the screen of my memory the most distant images of the French motorbike rallies of my youth, the scenes that would appear first would undoubtedly be those of Saturday night drinking and the bawdy songs sung around campfires by legendary bards - always the same ones, by the way - whose repertoires of salacious songs seemed inexhaustible.
We knew all these bards well. And there was no need to beg them to start their vocal performance. We, the audience, were all singing along to the chorus.
In those days, you didn't need a cheap record player or a more sophisticated stereo, let alone a jukebox or a Scopitone. In the middle of nowhere, with no electricity, the singer and his audience became one around the campfire: a kind of ultimate communion... but certainly not a solemn one. The words of these bawdy songs were not written by their original authors to be sung in church by choirboys...
All the more so as some of them recounted acts of a sexual nature committed by priests and nuns deserving to be disrobed on the spot with, as a bonus, a single ticket to hell on Judgement Day!
Did I miss my calling as a musician?
At that time, in early 1976, I was no longer playing in the local rock band in which I'd been a guitarist. With my passion for motorbikes and rallying taking up most of my free time, I no longer found the time to take part in rehearsals during the week, or to perform at weekends when the opportunity arose.
The members of the band wanted to take the next step, with the hope of becoming professionals and making a living from their music, so they asked me to choose between motorcycling and rock'n'roll. It was a no-brainer. My passion for motorcycling was too strong. I gave up my place as guitarist to someone else and wished them all the best of luck.
For the record, they all went on to become professionals. They didn't reach the heights of fame in the history of French rock bands, but ten years later in 1985, after having toned down their music and renamed their group 'Les Visiteurs', they still had a brief success with a song entitled 'Qu'est-ce qui te fait peur? (What scares you?)
This hit earned them a few appearances on French television, one of which can be seen below in a video extract from the programme 'Champs Elysées' by popular TV host Michel Drucker.
Converting a guitar amp into a sound system
I still had all my gear, including a pair of guitars, effects pedals, microphones, and an amplifier powerful enough to be used as a PA system at an event.
For the record, this guitar amplifier was used for this purpose at several rallies apart from the 1976 Alambic, including the 1976 Kiki's Birthday, the 1977 Rallye-Neiges and the 1977 Vercingetorix, before I parted with it.
Another of my most prized possessions was my extensive collection of vinyl records, which I had amassed over the years.
Bought cheaply second-hand or bartered around for other things, it reflected the musical tastes of my adolescence, much of which was then made up of almost everything that the rock'n'roll pioneers of the '50s had spawned.
In the list of all the artists I worshipped musically in my younger years, these two, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent, had a special place among my favorites
An inner need to create and innovate
One of my character traits, at a time when I had much fewer years under my belt than today, was that I always wanted to innovate, to do things differently than they were. That's what I've always tried to do to the best of my ability for the fifteen motorcycle meetings I've been responsible for organizing.
Without any pretentiousness on my part, but with the sole aim of claiming what belongs to me spiritually (at a time when some would not hesitate to deny the truth and distort the real facts to follow their agenda), two of these innovations cannot be erased from the history of French invitational rallies:
- introducing rock music for the first time in a rally by invitation, on the occasion of the first Alambic, in March 1976.
- and in the summer of 1981, when I introduced artistic tattooing for the first time in an invitational rally, on the occasion of the first Gueux d'Route meeting, where I invited the Marseille-based tattoo artist Allan (one of the French pioneers of this art form, along with the legendary Bruno de Pigalle long before him) to tattoo on site any participants who wished to do so.
Adieu bawdy songs, make way for rockabilly!
For this evening of Saturday evening 20 March 1976 of the first Alambic rally, I had every intention of making a big impact so that it would be memorable. I had the idea of relegating the bawdy and other salacious songs to oblivion for the duration of an evening, to leave room for music and dancing for the very first time in the history of invitational rallies.
We were going to add sound to the large main room of Jean Cheyppe's house with my powerful amp, and via a record player connected to it I would liven up the evening like a DJ, playing the best pieces from my record collection one after the other.
The result exceeded all my expectations. Doped up on beer or red wine, the participants most receptive to rock music went wild, each executing their own dance moves, some of them well into the night.
Among the oldest rallyists of the sixty-odd participants in attendance, those who had spent their teenage years in the 60s - like our friend Kiki Blanchot, who was particularly wild that evening as a connoisseur of the music of his generation - fully appreciated this night of madness to the rhythm of the sounds to which they had danced a decade earlier.
A delegation from MC Dragons took part in the 1976 Alambic, led by Kiki Blanchot (left), including in its ranks Andre Vacher aka 'Ded' (right), the unforgettable Jean-Luc Rechat, and Michel Vaquier aka 'Le Grillou'
Vinyl and alcohol, not a good pair
Collector's records, especially if they are rare and valuable, are certainly not made to be handled during evenings with excessive amounts of alcohol. Even if we try to be as careful and gentle as possible in handling them, as more alcoholic beverages are ingested, the touch function is no longer as safe as in sober mode.
I was obviously aware of this risk when making the decision to make my precious vinyl records available to the rally. There was no miracle despite all my precautions. Some of them inherited, in memory of this memorable evening of rock, dance and pure madness, scratches on the vinyl; like scars on the faces of old soldiers, forever testimonies of hard and memorable battles...
Mayor, guests and organizers, all happy!
These details were minor and didn't stop me from thinking that this first meeting was positive in every way, a real treat for the soul.
We had a wonderful time all weekend. As luck would have it, the weather was fine, with the sun out in full force, although the temperature in some years can be chilly in March.
Jean Cheyppe, the owner of the house, was delighted that his country home was still standing and in the same condition as he had lent it to us. With the added pleasure of getting drunk at our expense all weekend.
As for the village mayor, he naturally paid us a courtesy visit on Sunday lunchtime, smartly at aperitif time, to see if everything was going well. As fine diplomats, to keep his good graces, we made sure that his glass was never empty.
The mayor and the 450 residents of Teillet-Argenty must have been proud, a few days after the rally, to read that the daily newspaper La Montagne was talking about them, their little village, and this motorcycle event. Thanks to Loulou Jouannard who had these lines published
As for the sixty or so friends who joined us in Teillet-Argenty, of the hundred or so invitations sent out, all were unanimously satisfied. Before heading home, they thanked us for inviting them to this first Alambic. We promised them we'd do it again in 1978, Loulou and I having from the outset wanted to organize this gathering only every two years.
40 years without speaking before reconciling
Little did Loulou and I knew that in the autumn of 1977, a disagreement between us, caused by our differing views and life philosophies, would shatter our friendship and cause us not to speak to each other for 37 years.
Loulou (l.) and me (r.) together again, this time at the Alambic rally 2014 ; a real pleasure to bury the hatchet once and for all. Alas, fate will have it that we do not take advantage of it...
Almost four decades of possibilities and opportunities squandered before we had the mutual pleasure of finally reconciling, in July 2014, just one week before Loulou breathed his last, on a hospital operating table, while the surgeon was operating on his heart...
A story of men, a story of lives, which I will most certainly address here on this site, in the last part of the story devoted to the saga of the Alambic rally.
- Jean-Francois Helias