I rarely disagree with the sentiments that Kenneth Roy shares with his readers. But I fear I have to take issue with his comments concerning Paisley and its reputation. Like Walter Humes I must admit that the saying 'Keep your eye on Paisley' is not one I've ever come across – but as a Wicker I think I can plead a geographical explanation.

In any event, Mr Roy tells us that the source of the saying is Benjamin Disraeli's 1880 novel 'Endymion' – which I have to admit I haven't read. Nonetheless it is his account of how Disraeli came to make this comment about Paisley which I see as misplaced and unfair. In the novel a character called Job Thornberry, who is a mill-owner, is alerting (around 1830) the novel's eponymous hero to the possibility that industrial unrest among workers in the north might lead to a revolutionary outbreak: 'What you should do,' he says, 'is to go to the Glasgow district; that city itself, and Paisley and Kilmarnock – keep your eye on Paisley.'

Mr Roy then suggests that the author 'may have arrived at this fictional citadel of popular revolt by sticking a pin in a map of the industrial north.' I think the truth may well be very different. Throughout his career both as a politician and a novelist, Disraeli was fully aware of the history of what became known as 'the condition of England' – the problem of the frightening gap between the rich and the poor. This above all was the source of the pressure for radical political and social change in the UK. Disraeli of all people would have been fully aware of the past history of attempts to bring about such change.

No doubt it is true that Disraeli never visited Paisley, but that in no way means that there was anything random about his choice of that particular town as a probable centre of industrial unrest. In fact given his political background and historical knowledge, it is much more likely he knew full well that if one were asked to choose a Scottish town with a tradition of working-class radicalism, Paisley from the late-18th century would be the obvious choice.

From the old statistical account of the 1790s, we learn that the population of Paisley was 20,000, making it easily the fastest-growing conurbation in Scotland, surpassed in numbers only by Glasgow and Edinburgh. The reason? The weaving, cotton thread spinning, and cloth making of the booming industrial revolution. Paisley town possessed 2,500 looms, while there were a thousand more in its suburbs. Great wealth was being created but needless to say it was far from evenly distributed. The weavers of Paisley, determined on self-improvement, soon gained a reputation for forms of radicalism in both religion and politics.

In the 1790s when the movement for real political reform began to gain momentum across the UK, Paisley was much involved. Two representatives from the town attended the first general (British) convention of the Scottish Friends of the People in Edinburgh in 1792. The town was home to two radical poets – Alexander Wilson and James Kennedy – but both had to flee to America when the British government cracked down on the reform movement at the time of the trials and transportation of Thomas Muir and the other four Scottish political martyrs. In Paisley, as in Glasgow, the authorities tried to quell popular support for reform by publishing loyalist rejoinders to the 'seditious' ideas of figures such as Muir and Thomas Paine: 'The Paisley weaver's letter to his neighbours and fellow tradesmen' is an example.

Paisley has been described as 'a hotbed of popular radicalism' in the 1790s, and that reputation was reinforced by its role a generation later in the Scottish 'radical war' of 1820. On 3 April its reform committee assembled under its drill instructor, but the group scattered when a curfew was imposed. On 5 April Paisley was one of the towns in which men accused of drilling and making pikes were arrested. On 8 April the Paisley prisoners were escorted to Greenock jail, but they were freed by local people after a lethal confrontation with the militia escort.

The radical war soon ended with the cruel hanging and beheading of three men accused of leading the uprising and the transportation of 19 more. In 1832, all were pardoned. I'm not suggesting that Disraeli would have been familiar with the details of this history. But that the worried mill-owner in his novel should have advised its hero to keep his eye on Paisley seems surely to have been a well-informed proposal. There was nothing fictional about Paisley's history of working-class industrial unrest.

Andrew Hook

Kenneth Roy makes a great point about the impact performers can make on sometimes quite ordinary musical material. I'm probably being over-sensitive, but whenever I see the Musicians Union (MU) mentioned, I start the accuracy-checker, so I contacted Pete Thoms, the MU session organiser, who played with all of these guys.

In the 'Baker Street' days, session players (non-featured) either took a one-off payment or were sometimes offered a smaller payment plus a royalty deal. Most of the time they took the bigger one-off payment, notably the drummer who was called in to keep proper time for Procol Harum in 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' – the most broadcast single in the UK between 1989-1995.

The problem was that while the UK government recognised the international copyright treaty that stated the 'right of the performer' to remuneration for broadcast use, it didn't enact any laws to make it so until the 1990s. Until then Phonographic Performances Limited (PPL) – who then only represented the recording companies and only paid royalties to 'featured artists' – handed over a lump sum each year to the MU to recompense the profession in general for the loss of work to radio. In the early 1950s, with only the BBC and no real mass recording industry, it would have been a few thousand – and with no easy way of linking thousands of players to particular broadcasts.

By the late 1980s, things had changed: the explosion of independent radio and the end of BBC 'needle-time' restrictions and the Monopolies and Mergers Commisison decreed that any monies should go only to individuals. PPL didn't know how to go about distributing this and hoarded the money for nearly five years. Then the MU took this on and used what data they could get to make ex-gratia payments to thousands of musicians, in the end well over £20 million. Eventually the MU and Equity helped to set up a performers' collecting society, PAMRA, which 10 or so years later merged into PPL.

It did look a wee bit as though the MU had somehow conspired to deny Raff [Raphael Ravenscroft] his just rewards – but we're pretty sure that he actually did quite well in the end.

Bill Sweeney

As a long-term resident of Renfrew I have reluctantly come to support its candidacy for 2021 because of the excellent cultural scene in the town and surrounding communities – PACE alone has produced so many wonderful new actors. Tommy McGrory who organised the 25 sax salute to Gerry Rafferty has done likewise with many young musicians from Paisley and Renfrew.

However, Kenneth Roy's article is quite superficial when it comes to the Baker Street sax solo and journalists who had more interest and spent more time on the issue disagree with his conclusions. There are demo tapes that show the sax solo being played by guitar and there is a more compelling similarity to an older jazz record, but one of its co-writers thinks it wasn't a conscious 'steal'. As we know from Billy Connolly, Gerry Rafferty was a control freak and his substitution of other musicians for Billy's playing on Humbebums' albums was one of the reasons for that duo's split. I would direct Kenneth to an article in the Atlantic which covers the subject in some depth: 'Musically, all the decisions on a Gerry Rafferty album, all the decisions on "yes, that stays" or "no, that goes" were fundamentally his,' said Hugh Burns. 'It's important to understand that. He was an artist through and through.'

Foster Evans

Return to homepage

Scotland's awful politics

The Midgie
with Bob Smith

Election Forum
How the Scottish Greens managed not to mention the environment once

Election Notebook
Scraping the barnacles

The Week
Am I becoming a media tart?

Nannie's Diary
The darker mysteries of public transport

Sharp Talk
So many universities...how do you choose?

The Cafe

Excursion to Camelot

The Local

The real story behind May Day

Islay's amazing captain