Coventry Carnival Rally
Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.
Our adventures at the 1977 Tourist Trophy have left us with many great memories; especially since I was asked that year to cover the entire event for the monthly 'Europe Moto Magazine', for whom I was working at the time. My press card, official pass and armband therefore allowed me to 'access-all-areas', as well as all the extra advantages granted to journalists during that week on the Isle of Man.
Tourist Trophy 1977 - Yours truly on his trusty Commando in the company of my long-time friend (with his back to the photo) Philippe Escuillie aka 'L'An 2' on his Triumph. Philippe is a former member of the MC Kangourous Sud Seine et Marnais, a well-known and very active club in the early 1970s. My memory fails me as to the exact photo location as it's more than 40 years ago, but it's either the Norton OC meeting in Ballacraine or the TOMCC meeting in Tholt Y Will. But it is definitely one of the two!
A 'Lordly' encounter
Apart from meeting fellow motorcyclists during rallies organised on the IOM during that week, bringing together members of Owners Clubs: VMCC, Vincent, Velocette, Norton, Triumph and BMW, which I had the pleasure of attending, my greatest surprise was yet to come. The pinnacle of all these encounters was the outstanding privilege of being able to meet the musicians of the rockabilly band Crazy Cavan 'n' The Rhythm Rockers backstage. As such, I was afforded the unforgettable opportunity to chat with 'Screaming Lord Sutch' after his second concert at the Palace Lido Douglas, a well-known entertainment centre hosting many popular bands and artists. Unfortunately, this esteemed venue was demolished in 1994.
Screaming Lord Sutch's distinctive stage act was out of this world that always packed out every club he played at. His live gigs and records gave new meaning to the word "flamboyant". Whether it meant leaping from a coffin to start the show, singing with a toilet seat around his neck, or setting various objects on fire. Whatever it took to entertain, Lord Sutch would do.
He and his merry men dressed as cavemen, monks, or Roman gladiators when they weren't fooling with fake cadavers, knives, and skulls or plastic hearts and lungs that they'd chuck into the crowd.
An unforgettable moment and honour to personally interview such a colourful character. A true showman, who had played with such famous musicians as guitarists Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore and Jimmy Page, as well as drummers Keith Moon, John Bonham, Mitch Mitchell and Carlo Little, the drummer who famously turned down the Rolling Stones gig to stay with Sutch. He, (Sutch) also played with pianists Nicky Hopkins and Matthew Fisher of Procol Harum, and bassist Noel Redding from the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
For younger readers from overseas who may not have heard of 'Screaming Lord Sutch', let's just say that he based his act on American musician 'Screaming Jay Hawkins' wildly theatrical performances. He presented his musical horror show in British clubs in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when for a while he was the 'farthest-out' thing around.
Despite his antics though, he suffered badly with depression throughout his life and sadly committed suicide on 16th June 1999.
Witnessing Mike Hailwood's epic comeback
We enjoyed the experience of the 1977 TT races so much that we were seized with the overwhelming desire to come back and do it all again the following year. As an extra incentive, a few months before the 1978 TT, the motorcycling press had announced the comeback of Mike Hailwood on a Ducati 900 SS. This reason alone was enough to ensure we dare not to miss the event.
In 1978 the TT took place from June 1-9 and the end of May found us on the road once again, rapidly eating up the 1500km between Auvergne in France and Douglas in the Isle of Man.
Towards Liverpool, MC Dragons members 'Bebert' Beranger and yours truly, posing in front of a beautiful automobile belonging to teddy boys whom we had unexpectedly encountered on route
Mike Hailwood had been living in Auckland, New Zealand. They said he was becoming bored and after 11 years away from motorcycle racing wanted to come out of retirement.
As a precursor to his return he rode a vintage Manx Norton in a few classic races in Australia and admitted to friends that he longed to return to the Isle Of Man TT; a race he had won a record 12 times, including a hat trick in 1961, though he was unsure of his ability to handle the race after such a prolonged absence.
At the age of 38 would he be competitive and win it again after such a long absence? Perhaps he might lose and tarnish his legacy by humiliating himself? We simply had to see this epic comeback with our own eyes.
Just like with fly fishing, it's all in the presentation! Yours truly in Douglas arranging the rocker hairstyle of Joel 'Jojo' Genneviaux (with his back to the photo), a childhood friend from my hometown
Our tribe of French rally fanatics
For this expedition in Manx country in 1978, we were a force to be reckoned with. Our group comprised life-long friends from both my hometown of Montlucon and its suburbs, Desertines. Amongst them were: Guy 'Dresch' Rostand, 'Souris', Joel 'Jojo Genneviaux, together with MC Dragons members: Bernadette 'Dedette' Blanchot, widow of our beloved club president Christian 'Kiki' Blanchot who died tragically in a motorcycle accident in September 1977, Alain 'BSA' Chaux, Yves 'Bebert' Beranger also aka 'Le Tueur', a nickname Kiki Blanchot had given him, and yours truly. Not forgetting my good friend and keen rallyist Philippe Escuillie aka 'L'An 2'.
Our 'gang' on the IOM 1978
On the IOM we had bumped into a few friends, all fellow rallyists with whom we used to meet in the small, invitation only world of French rallies.
Amongst others: Jean-Michel 'Ariel' Millerand, Serge 'Raspoutine' Vollard and his partner at the time 'Choupette', Jean-Claude Varnat and his girlfriend.
Left to right: Alain Chaux, Yves Beranger and Philippe Escuillie enjoying the Red Arrows (Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team) display over Douglas Bay
We also met up with members of the Bitazelles MC from La Cueille (86), lead by my old friend Bernard 'Mouton' Sireau, one of the most fanatical rallyists I knew. A rocker at heart and a former legionnaire, with whom I share a friendship that dates back almost 50 years, and who I am in regular contact with to this day.
The reunion between longtime friends at the Raboliots Rally in 2013, one of the oldest French invitation rallies organised in Sologne: from left to right, yours truly (MC Dragons), Bernard 'Mouton' Sireau (Bitazelles MC) and the rally organiser Jacky Roger (CM Raboliots). This photo montage featuring the logos of our respective clubs was kindly done with love by the passionate rallyist; our friend 'Mouton'
Joy across the island
'Mike The Bike' did not disappoint! His very first lap on the Ducati was his fastest-ever lap of the TT course, a hair under 110 mph. He closed the gap on the Honda-mounted Read, who had started ahead of him, and passed his old rival whose machine was unable to handle the pace.
Phil Read's Honda broke down on the fifth lap. Hailwood won the Formula 1 race by almost two minutes, creating an outburst of joy and adulation across the island.
Hailwood's victory had to be celebrated as befits a great win! The Newcastle Brown bottles on the counter are proof of our enthusiasm for celebrating Mike's legendary feat.
The Bible of international rallies
I wouldn't say with certainty how I first heard about the Coventry Carnival Rally hosted by the Three Spires MCC. But if my memory serves me well, I think that I had read about it in the little book edited then by the SMC (Sveriges Motor Cyklister).
At the time there was no internet to look up information about forthcoming international rallies, we simply relied on word of mouth.
However, the SMC, was formed back in 1963 by a small group of motorcycle enthusiasts from Sweden, whose main aim was to inform members about rallies and parties. They had the brilliant idea of producing an annual publication called the 'SMC-Book'. This took the form of a small book giving accurate information in English about forthcoming international rallies, together with the details of how to contact the organisers.
It proved to be the perfect annual calendar of the main foreign rallies; a sort of mini-bible essential to rallyists keen to participate at international meetings. It was obtained either by becoming a SMC member, which I did, or by buying it via an international money order.
A long detour for a rally
The dates of the Coventry Carnival Rally, organised by the Three Spires MCC, suited us perfectly, since it took place immediately after our stay at the Tourist Trophy.
We could therefore finish our UK expedition by taking part in a rally in the city made famous in the world of French rallyists. This was on account of the gatherings of another club from this same city: Antelope MCC, and due to its best ambassador on the continent: Rod Taylor.
Rather than returning home directly from Liverpool, the idea of making this detour via Coventry, although costly, excited me enough to persuade the group to take this more roundabout route, rather than the shorter one to return home.
The more the merrier says the proverb. I must have done a good job persuading everyone because they all agreed and we became a great group of 'Frenchies' taking part in the Coventry Carnival Rally. In fact we actually won a trophy which, if I remember correctly, was awarded to the foreign club with the most members.
It is said that memory in the human brain works like a sieve. Strangely, some things are kept and remembered, while others disappear into oblivion. This is the case for this Coventry Carnival Rally which, 42 years later, has left me with absolutely no precise memories of it, with the exception of very vague recollections of festivities in the town which we took advantage of during the weekend.
As for the rally itself, I don't remember anything about it at all of any interest.
Coventry Carnival rally 78 - The one and only photo apparently taken at this meeting showing my friend Jean-Michel Millerand and his Trident at the rally campsite. Millerand is the French 'brother of another mother' of Nigel Woodthorpe. Like his English alter ego, he has accomplished a staggering number of kilometers on this machine, taking part in a multitude of rallies all over Europe.
Between 1978 and 1980 the Three Spires MCC organised an impressive number of at least 9 different rallies such as Coventry Carnival, Gunpowder, Eastern Buccaneer, Western Warrior, Northern Venturer, Southern Crusader, Elleborough Falls, Clover, and Mad March Hare.
In fact, it is only years later that we heard reports about the club behind this meeting. According to some of our English friends, this club had a reputation for organising meetings, not with the aim of sharing a common passion among fellow rallyists, but rather for financial gain.
Whether these rumours are justified or not, it matters greatly to me that any former members of this club who consider themselves to be honest men should ignore the above statement.
- Jean-Francois Helias
Greed corrupts the mind and a corrupted mind has no remorse, sympathy, love or respect for other humans. It only has love for money.
- De philosopher DJ Kyos