Nero (Mike O’Neill) had previously played keyboards as a member of The Cabin Boys, the backing group of Tommy Steele‘s less famous brother, Colin Hicks.
He and bassist Rod ‘Boots’ Slade formed The Gladiators originally with Laurie Jay on drums and Colin Green on lead guitar. Green was then the lead with Billy Fury‘s backing musicians The Beat Boys who would later become Georgie Fame‘s band, The Blue Flames.
It was this Gladiator’s lineup that recorded the classic guitar led instrumental, Entry Of The Gladiators. The follow-up, In The Hall Of The Mountain King, with its wonderful vocal intro “Ah, say there Brutus, like, where is this king’s pad?” featured the guitar work of Joe Moretti and drums of Tommy Brown.
The latter single was banned by the BBC for the jokey intro and purported lack of respect for the classics.
The group had a striking image, with Mike O’Neill in toga and wreath and the rest of the group in gladiator outfits. They featured on radio and TV, plus numerous package tours between 1961 and 1963, though despite the minor success of the first singles, the original line-up didn’t last long and Green moved off to what he presumably saw as a more secure future with The Blue Flames shortly after recording their third offering, Czardas.
A lot of personnel changes followed and the group managed to record only one further single, Tovarich, which no longer credited ‘Nero’ in the roll call.
Mike ‘Nero’ O’Neill died of liver cancer in Stevenage on 10 October 2013, aged 75.
Nero (Mike O’Neill)
Rod ‘Boots’ Slade