McAuley brings show home

JAMES REANEY

, Last Updated: 11:31 PM ET

LONDON, Ont. -- After a pre-Christmas run that's had them all over the map, McAuley is marking Boxing Day on home turf.

The London pop/soul quartet is on a bill with Toronto rapper Maestro and Montreal dance diva duo 11:30 at the DV8 club tonight.

"It's been a long time since we've been here to perform," says Gary McAuley. The group has been busy promoting its new release, My Heaven (Aquarius), and taking care of all manner of individual business.

"We have done more TV shows, we just recently did Bullard (Open Mike) and TSN (Off The Record) . . . We did the celebrity sports dinner for TSN," McAuley says.

They also were at the Air Canada Centre to handle anthem duties for the NBA's Toronto Raptors. After hearing McAuley's famous O Canada, the Raptors went out and crushed the visiting Utah Jazz.

"Man, you guys are a good-luck charm. Every time you come here, we win," a Raptors official told the Londoners.

That's praise every anthem singer wants to hear -- because it often means more calls to sing for the pros.

"We've all been doing our little things," McAuley says. This fall, Randy McAuley played football with London Catholic Central high school, including a game at SkyDome. George McAuley teaches at CCH. Mark McAuley was on Off the Record, the TSN talk show.

Gary, a songwriter and producer who often works with other artists, is also a featured performer on a major recording being done in Los Angeles.

"It's a project that's coming out and it has some superstars on this thing . . . the biggest of the big," he says. Details will be released later.

Earlier this year, the brothers became simply McAuley after being known as the McAuley Boys. It was the latest turn in a career in which they've opened for Aretha Franklin and James Brown and been nominated for a Juno.

The McAuley brothers are fine singers born into a family of singers and musicians. Their father, Winston, used to play in bands and their mother, Rita, grew up in Grenada and sang with her sisters as the Mark Sisters.

The first McAuley album, In My Lifetime, released in 1997, was an independent production with limited distribution. By signing with Aquarius, one of the Donald K. Donald Group's labels, McAuley has moved into a national distribution system for the first time.

Tuesday's bill also features up-and-comers 11:30, label-mates of McAuley. The Montreal twins Toni and Trish Sherwood, whose name derives from their birthday -- Nov. 30 -- already have a hit, Ole Ole.

The Sherwoods were in London for an in-store appearance recently and also spent time, alongside McAuley, at the Sydney Olympics, helping boost Toronto's bid for the 2008 Games as part of "Team Aquarius."

Then, there's Maestro, the veteran.

"He's a friend of ours. I've had a chance to hang out with Maestro . . . we get along really well," Gary McAuley says.

"He's like a thoroughbred in Canada, a staple in hip-hop in Canada, actually a godfather for hip-hop in Canada. It's good to get on tour with him and play with him."

The three acts play the Opera House at Toronto tomorrow night. McAuley and Maestro then play the Roxx at Barrie on Dec. 29 and the Lyric at Kitchener on Dec. 30.

Maestro's happy to talk about his new CD, Ever Since. One of its tracks, Perseverance, is a tune inspired by boxer Rubin (Hurricane) Carter, but not everything is meant to be taken seriously, Maestro says.

Here's a question Maestro is tired of answering: Why did he shorten his name? His real name is Wesley Williams. He became Maestro Fresh Wes in 1988 and then just Maestro two years ago. The answer is simple: "I never changed it." It's just that MCs' names are so much shorter than they used to be, he explains. The days of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five are over -- so he just went along with the pack. His friends call him Maes' or 'Stro. Short handles are in. End of story.

Maestro is actually one of the originators in Canadian rap, but he says it doesn't bother him that he's not currently on a major record label. (Ever Since is on Song). There are only two Canadian rap acts on majors at the moment: Choclair and the Rascalz. Compare that with 2,000 or so in the U.S.

"It makes me feel like we still got a long ways to go," Maestro says. As for respect, "I'm just trying to sell records and just blow up to the next level and just represent Canada internationally. In terms of respect, cats know. They know. I'm still in the game."


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