In tribute to Louis Jouannard
I was just 10 years old in 1966 when I first met ‘Loulou’ Jouannard.
He was a little older than me and lived in Desertines, on the outskirts of Montlucon. His older sister was my older sister's best friend, so she visited us regularly. Through an exchange of good practices, my parents were invited to meet hers. So that Sunday of 1966 we were invited to lunch at the Jouannard family home.
Loulou's father was a correspondent for La Montagne, the local news daily, and a great specialist in mushroom species, even chairing the region's Mycological Circle. He also had a reputation for liking wine more than he should have - as did my father - which took them to their graves earlier than expected.
The elite of the Montlucon gang, photographed here in July 1975, on their return from the Guildford rally in Great Britain. From l. to r.: Loulou Jouannard (bearded on the floor); Guy 'Dresch' Rostand (checked shirt); next to him, Christian 'Coco' Kozdeba; and myself playing the Gibson SG. The others are locals we met on the banks of the Aumance river in Herisson
I remember that after dinner, Loulou, who was already a shy and introverted sort of person, suggested that I play Scrabble with him, a game I'd never had the chance to play before. I was good at French, always top of my class, but his experience of the game meant that he won almost every game.
Louis, the man with three nicknames
We lost touch for a few years before meeting up again in the early 70s, sharing the same passion for motorbikes and motorbike rallies. At a time when Louis had inherited two nicknames from the motorcycling community in our town: the first was 'Loulou', a common nickname for many French people whose first name is Louis; the second was 'Le Bouc' (The Beard), derived from his Landru-style beard.
Landru, a French serial killer, murdered at least seven women between 1915 and 1919 and at least three other women and a young man earlier in 1914. The true number of Landru's victims is suspected to be higher. Because Louis Jouannard and Landru shared a certain facial similarity in the style of their beards, Kiki Blanchot, the legendary president of the MC Dragons, gave him the third nickname of 'Landru'
Over the years, Loulou and I spent enough time together and shared so many adventures on the road that we became inseparable friends.
Fennecs rally, our apprenticeship
In 1975, Loulou and I were then close friends of the charismatic Christian 'Coco' Kozdeba, the president and founder of the pirate club 'Les Fennecs' representing our good old town of Montluçon , whose main members were also old acquaintances with whom we had been hanging out for several years.
Although we were not full members of their club, we gave them a helping hand in the organization of their one-off Fennecs rally.
The main members of the Fennecs motorcycle club were all long-time friends with whom Loulou and I hung out regularly. In addition, we were benefactor members of their club
This first organizational experience with the Fennecs was a sort of baptism of fire for us, a short apprenticeship but sufficient to learn a little more on the subject and above all inspire us to organize our own motorcycle rally.
Thanking friends by inviting them in turn
Since 1970, over the years and the many rallies in which me and my bearded accomplice had taken part, we had made a long list of motorcyclist friends from various French regions and also from abroad.
Some of them had even welcomed us into their homes and offered us hospitality; others had been kind enough to invite us to take part in their meetings on invitation only.
The idea of bringing them all together in our company for a weekend on our territory to thank them for their friendship began to take shape.
Thanks to 'Souris', the rally venue is found
One of the essential elements in organising a rally is, above all else, finding the right place to hold it.
As fate would have it, we had no great difficulty in securing a venue. This was partly thanks to our friend 'Souris' (whose first and last names have faded from my memory), who, like Loulou, lived in Desertines. This rallyist was noted for riding a machine not at all designed for grand touring: a 750 Kawasaki H2 Mach IV similar in every way, colour included, to the one seen below.
We were a rather sectarian group of bikers with a passion for British motorbikes. We didn't like Japanese machines or their owners at all. With the sole exception of our good friend ‘Souris’ and his 'widow maker', who enjoyed a special status in our group
'Souris' then worked in the factory with a former legionnaire named Jean Cheyppe; a character with the physique of a heavyweight wrestler with the shoulders and arms of a gorilla, with the features of a gypsy whose face showed that he had been marked by the hard blows of life.
From the first glance at him, you understood that it was better to avoid stepping on his toe or provoking his wrath. But beneath his tough exterior, after having met him enough to know him better, the man was very friendly and helpful, and even more so a bon vivant who loved good food and good wine.
It was through 'Souris' that I met him, his wife and his teenage son who had just got his motorcycle license and was riding a Suzuki GT 125. The son more or less started hanging out with us and frequenting our favourite bar.
At the time I did not live very far from their home located near the bar 'Le Moderne' on Boulevard de Courtais, so I often paid this family a courtesy visit as a neighbour.
The father had me on his good side because, apart from getting on well, we had two things in common: one was that we both enjoyed red wine; and I dare say, the second was that we both drank it in excess, without counting the glasses, whenever the opportunity arose. I had even become his ideal excuse to uncork a bottle and empty it with him, without his wife daring to reprimand him for his gluttony in my presence.
As luck would have it, the Cheyppe couple had bought and restored a two-storey country house in the commune of Teillet-Argenty, 12 kilometres from Montlucon. When Jean heard that I was looking for a place to hold our rally, he didn't hesitate for a second to offer us his country residence for the event.
View of the village of Teillet-Argenty where the 1st meeting of the Alambic rally took place. Our friend Jean Cheyppe's house is somewhere in this photo. I'm just unable - 47 years later - to locate it
Red wine helps corrupt the mayor
The only obstacle that could possibly scupper our plans was not receiving the approval of the authorities; in this case the village mayor, a man called Armand Bernard, in office since 1953, and looking after a commune of 458 inhabitants at the time.
Luckily, he was a good chap who saw no harm in young people coming to his village to party and have fun for a weekend, and after meeting him to explain our project and what a motorbike rally was all about, his authorisation was quickly obtained.
All the more so, as the mayor like us, also had a weakness for red wine. So the deal was easily sealed, with the sound of our glasses toasting each other's good health (as was fashionable at the time in the countryside) and the success of our rally...
Not far from the rally site, on a hillock, were the ruins of the ‘Château du Mas'. Dating from the 15th century, this castle was partially destroyed by lightning at the beginning of the 20th century
Cash flow? Our savings!
Now that the venue for the festivities was found, Loulou and I began to make a list of guests we wanted to receive this weekend of 20 & 21 March 1976.
A strict selection, not without dilemma, of less than a hundred invitations sent by post, to try to bring together our closest friends among all our motorcycling acquaintances of the time, and the cream of the cream of the rallyists of France appearing in our respective address books.
Our guest list included our good friends Gilles 'Gillouze' Gaudechoux (left) from CM Raboliots, an old acquaintance of Loulou's from the early 70s, and currently a contributor to this website; and Jean-Francois 'Jeff' Laroche (right), a die-hard rallyist with a passion for classic British motorbikes
As individuals not benefiting from the treasury of a club or association, Loulou and I used the little personal savings we had to constitute the funds we needed to be able to pay all expenses relating to the organization.
It was of course a risk to take in case our guests only responded to our call in too small numbers. But with enthusiasm motivating us as the event approached, we did not even consider for a single second that we could possibly fail in the success of our project.
Our friends Gérard Billiotte aka ‘Bill’ (left) de Butteaux, an unforgettable colourful character; the late Remi 'Beru' Herpe of the Motobylette Club of Rouen (centre); and to his right, Alain Chaux aka 'Le B'SA', from the Thiers region. These three did us the honour of taking part in this first Alambic rally
In any case, we weren't interested in making a profit. We just wanted - in the spirit of the pirate clubs of the 70s - to at least recoup (or almost recoup) our initial investment.
And even if we had to sacrifice a little of our respective savings, it was worth it. The satisfaction and pleasure of receiving our guests and partying with them was well worth the cost of losing a little money out of our own pockets.
Bruno Husson (left), the leader of the Vierzon Eighteen Club, his wife, his brother Dominique, and a number of other members of their group were also present; as was comrade 'Rasputin', whose real name is Serge Vollard (right), also a member of the Motobylette Club de Rouen, another well-known rally fanatic who travelled thousands of kilometres every year to take part in the motorbike meetings of the time
No badge as a souvenir but rather good food
One of our priorities was to offer our guests an above-average quality of food for Saturday evening dinner and Sunday lunch.
To achieve this, I asked a chef friend of mine called Gerald to be in charge of the meals. I have no recollection of what was on the menu, with the exception, if I remember correctly, of an excellent home-made sauerkraut served at the Saturday evening dinner.
As a large part of our budget was spent on buying the various victuals, it was insufficient to allow us to produce a badge commemorating the reunion.
We could have had a sticker made, but in the end we opted for a diploma in the old parchment style, inspired by the one I had received when taking part in the 1973 Ankou rally of the Quimperle MC, presided over by our friend Alain Jaffro.
Diploma of participation in the 1973 Ankou rally of the Moto-Club of Quimperle
Our own commemorating the 1976 Alambic rally and given as a souvenir to each participant. The tricolour cockade, sealed with red wax, which adorned it was unable to withstand its 47 years of age and vanished
As with music, and whatever the style, it's common to be inspired to a greater or lesser extent by what others have done before you. That's how I came up with the layout for ours, based on that of the Breton Ankou.
On the top left I added a drawing by cartoonist Jeff Vivant, 'borrowed' from an issue of Moto Journal magazine (a French bi-monthly magazine dealing with various subjects relating to motorbikes and motorbike sport, the first issue of which appeared on 14 January 1971); and on the right, the name of the Confrerie Franco-Belge des Routards that Loulou and I represented at the time as active members.
Founded in the mid-70s by Dany Puiati (pictured left), a Belgian die-hard rallyist living in Vise near Liege, this Franco-Belgian club (right sticker) brought together a very small group of French and Belgian rally fanatics that Dany had hand-picked
MC Les Routards included, among others, the very nice Daniel 'Yogy' Kubon, whom I greatly respect and who nowadays lives in Poitou, as well as the late Jean-Paul Haemish aka 'Tio Blond', a former member of the Lille section of the Vera Club who, after moving from rallying to speed racing on circuits, sadly died racing three weeks after his marriage; even more tragic, his widow being pregnant...
The diploma was printed at the Imprimerie Ouvriere de Montlucon where our friend Christian 'Coco' Kozdeba then worked as a typographer.
Me and my old friend Coco Kozdeba (right), the charismatic leader of the gang we formed at the time in our hometown. As he was a professional typographer, it was logical that we called on him to create the souvenir diploma for the 1976 Alambic rally
To give it a more official look and make it more attractive, a tricolour cockade sealed with red wax was affixed by hand to each diploma.
It was a painstaking and time-consuming job, consisting firstly of cutting the strips of tricolour ribbon to the right length, then melting the wax stick over a candle, affixing the piece of ribbon in the right place on each parchment, dripping just enough wax to stick it, leaving it to cool, and finishing off by applying the final seal.
All this to embellish a piece of paper; what wouldn't we do for the sake of perfection and wanting to do well to please those we love...
(to be continued in Part 2)
- Jean-Francois Helias