The Class of '58 : The Coleman Family


“The hills are alive, with the sound of music”…. And it’s Rock & Roll!

The Coleman Family are “The Class of ’58”, recognised worldwide as one of Europe’s best and most well-known Rock & Roll and Doowop bands. Over four decades in the worldwide Rock & Roll/ Roots Music scene, with the last twenty two years consisting of the complete Coleman Family – Dad Howie, Mam Chris and Sons John & David, “The Class of ’58” have carved out a reputation as one of the finest exponents of modern-day-fifties music.


When The Class of ’58 perform, people always ask about the history of the band. Well, The Class of ’58 was formed back in 1986 and except for Howie and Chris, the lineup changed until long-standing drummer, Dave Coates, joined the band and stayed right up until John took over. The same people always pause and smile then repeat the question. What they really want to know is the answer to one question….

How did the Coleman Family come to be playing together in The Class of ’58?

Let’s go back to where it started….

Howie & Chris first met at a Rock & Roll dance in 1982, when Howie was 19 and Chris was 17 and have been rockin’ together ever since. Back then, as the saying goes, the boys were nothing more than a twinkle in their eyes, they had far more important things to do; like touring Europe with the A-Z of original Rock & Roll stars, with the odd beer or two thrown in! They built a big reputation as the go-to backing band for the touring originals, something which many people still remember today.

In 1994 and 1996, the boys came along and in 1999 a 5 year old John came home from school, after hearing an older boy play, and said “I can do that”, and he could! Howie made him his first cardboard box drum kit and he was ready to rock. Growing up with his mam and dad being musicians, John always dreamed of one day joining the band, something that was to come true sooner than anyone expected. John had his first real drum kit for Christmas when he was 6 and did his first real paying gig a few months later on his 7th birthday, after losing his two front teeth 10 minutes before going on stage; a brief 30 minute set at a local club.

He progressed at a phenomenal rate, through his own natural ability and hard work practicing, without ever having a single lesson, and joined the band full-time aged 8, completely by accident. Long standing drummer, Dave Coates, was struggling to get time off for gigs and, when asked if he knew any good drummers, he simply responded “yeah, use John, he’s good enough”. He immediately realised that John would become the permanent drummer in the band and the rest, as they say, is history. John’s first run of dates as the new full-time drummer in the band was a month-long tour with the legendary Charlie Gracie, who couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw an 8 year old behind the drum kit. Charlie later admitted that he thought John would only do a song or two but, instead, he did the whole tour and every gig since.

While this was going on David would be watching on from the wings of the stage, handling band affairs as head of security; he would proudly sit there wearing his black t-shirt, with security on the back and watch on. He was itching to join the band and longed to play the piano but there was one issue, his hands were too small, so he had to wait. He would come on for a song or two and play the harmonica, which Howie had wired up to a radio transmitter, so he could wander around the venue and then return to the wings. All the while, he was constantly playing on his toy piano and honing his skills.

A little while later, and after a bit more growing, his fingers were finally long enough to play the piano properly, so he progressed onto the real thing and, shortly after, joined the band full time at age 7; with his little legs dangling off his piano stool too! As with his brother, John, David progressed at a rapid rate and was completely self taught. Soon he had turned into a mini Jerry Lee Lewis, which came with its downsides. Such was his enthusiasm, something that everybody would always comment on, that he cost the band a small fortune on replacement keys for his piano! He would play so wildly that they would often just break and fly off mid-song, giving the crowd some nice souvenirs to take home!

It was around this same time that the band started performing their first doowop tracks. Initially it started with one acapella song, complete with David standing on a chair next to his daddy, to reach the microphone but soon developed into a number of songs. David’s voice, at that age, had an uncanny resemblance to Frankie Lymon and so, for a few years, David was the bands Frankie…. Until his voice dropped and Frankie was no more, so things evolved.

Since these early years, the band has continued to tour each year and has gone on to become one of the most well-known and sought after bands in Europe. This isn’t to say that there hasn’t been trials along the way. At the start, some promoters cancelled shows and tours, because they heard there were kids in the band; without ever hearing them play. Occasionally, ignorant questions like “how do you make the kids do it?” or “do you have to be really pushy” would be asked but that answer would always be the same. “None of this was planned, nobody was pushed into it, it all just fell into place by accident”. Besides, as the old saying goes, “you can make anyone do something that they don’t want, but you can’t make them be good at it”. The only advice that was ever given to the boys, when they started, was simple. If they wanted to play in the band, and do what mam and dad had made a career out of, they would have to work probably 3 times harder than any adult. This is simply because adults could have an “off-night” or go on stage drunk and play badly and it would be ok, if The Class of ’58 had an off night, people would automatically say “what do you expect with kids in the band”. This work ethic has formed the basis of the band as you see it today; regarded internationally as not only one of the best but one of the most professional outfits in our genre of music, and something we’re incredibly proud of.

Since the early days, the Coleman Family or The Class of ’58, whichever you prefer, has come a hell of a long way. What started as a mam, dad and son trio, evolved into a mam, dad and two sons four-piece, playing small Rock & Roll clubs in the UK and these days can be found often appearing as headliners/ top line artists at many of Europe’s top retro and vintage music festivals, with a large fan-base all over Europe. The band perform at a huge variety of different events each year, all over the world. They are regular headline artists on cruise ships, at Rock & Roll festivals and events outside of Europe, generic music festivals, corporate events & private parties, motor and air shows, hotels and holiday resorts, rock & roll events and everything in between. They have various TV and Radio appearances, have guested on national arena tours and have performed with the A-Z of Rock & Roll musics most legendary original artists, in some of Europes most iconic venues.

Not a bad innings. So far….