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Leigh music maestro backed Bassey, Bowie, Donovan, Dusty and Georgie
6:20am Thursday 17th October 2013 in News
A TALENTED musician and actor who put Leigh on the showbiz map has died at the age of 75.
Mike O’Neill’s stage career began in the 1950s and lasted until 2005. He last Thursday in hospital in Hertfordshire having been admitted 10 days earlier with cancer of the liver.
Along the big names he worked with was his home town buddy Georgie Fame.
Maestro Mike learned to play piano in the front room of the family home in Newton Road, Lowton, and he starred with leading artists David Bowie, Shirley Bassey, Donovan, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochrane.
He played on Dusty Springfield’s Number One hit ‘You don’t have to say you love me’ and with The Ivy League, whose single ‘Tossin’ and Turnin’ made it to number three.
Dressed in a toga and wearing a laurel crown he fronted Nero and the Gladiators and their ‘Entry of the Gladiators’ track later became Leigh Centurions’ theme tune.
Mike also appeared on stage with the 7.84 company with John McGrath and was proud to act under the pseudonym of Leigh Lancs.
The former Lowton St Mary’s junior school pupil left private school in Bolton to become a machine shop apprentice at the Vulcan Works at Newton.
“His first band was The Wabash Skiffle Group who were all lads from the Leigh area. They played at pubs around Leigh and at Leigh Casino,” said his younger brother Tony, who lives in Lowton.
Tony recalled how Mike then went off to London and spent much of his time at the Two Is coffee bar which was the mecca in the capital for aspiring musicians.
When Clive Powell arrived in London to seek his fame and fortune he shared a flat with Mike who recommended him to the famous Flamingo Club where the resident band was the Blue Flames. Clive took over the piano playing and hit the big time as Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames and according to Leigh’s senior rock ‘n’ roller Ronnie Carr: “Clive was forever grateful for Mike’s influence.”
Mike leaves a wife Rachel, an actress who has appeared in Dear John, The Darling Buds of May and Only Fools and Horses. He also leaves a daughter, Jessica, and a son, Danny.
The funeral takes place on October 23 in Stevenage and his ashes will later be laid to rest in the family grave at St Mary’s Church, Lowton.
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