The Scotsman Sessions #324: Dictator

Welcome to the Scotsman Sessions. With the performing arts sector still impacted by the pandemic, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on, with introductions from our critics. Here, Michael Campbell of Livingston band Dictator performs a solo version of their new single Fin – a song written from the perspective of his West Highland terrier of the same name

Silent film stars, war poets, the streets of Edinburgh and a West Highland terrier have all inspired the songs of Livingston indie quartet Dictator, a group of former school chums whose band has sprung from the same West Lothian grassroots gigging circuit as Lewis Capaldi and The Snuts.

Vocalist Michael Campbell and bassist Joe Murty played together before joining forces with guitarist Zach Tarimo Goodhur and drummer Allan Ramsay in 2019, pooling their love of Pink Floyd, Gorillaz, Primal Scream and Sixties psychedelia to create a commercial indie rock proposition with embellishing synths and samples. Their mix and match edit of Charlie Chaplin’s speech from The Great Dictator partly inspired their name – along with Campbell’s self-confessed control freakery.

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The works of war poet Wilfred Owen influenced their debut single Anthem for a Doomed Youth which they released in late 2019, shortly before they were pulled up short by the pandemic. Like many of their peers, Dictator managed to claw some positivity from their enforced hiatus.

“For us it was a time to really get to know ourselves as a band and to decide what kind of impact we’d like our music to have,” they say. “We used the time to help create the sound we’d always envisaged but hadn’t quite been able to replicate before. As a result we’re much happier, looser and for the most part optimistic despite it being a very difficult and dark time for everyone.”

Actor Robert Carlyle sharing Anthem for a Doomed Youth on an online playlist was an encouraging vote of confidence, helping to kickstart some positive word of mouth, as was signing to Edinburgh label Blackhall Records last year. Since then, the group have gone on to win Best Rock/Alternative at the 2021 Scottish Alternative Music Awards, reach the finals of BBC Introducing’s Scottish Act of the Year, open for The Fratellis at Barrowland and tour the UK with Rotherham indie kids The Reytons.

Next on the agenda is their debut EP Rubik’s Cube which has already been trailed with the release of the title track and also recent single Conquistador, another song inspired by Wilfred Owen, which features a sample of the heartbeat of Tarimo Goodhur’s unborn son laced through its intro.

“We wanted to capture elements of every band member's life at the time of writing – like a frame of reference so that, no matter what happens, we could all have a chunk of this piece of work to cherish and be proud of.”

Now it is Campbell’s turn to get personal with subject matter. New single and EP closing track Fin is written from the perspective of his West Highland terrier of the same name and features his parents on backing vocals and brass – though the Scotsman Sessions version of the track, filmed at Bleach Studios in Leith, is a simple rendition with bonus pot plants and puzzles.

Fin is released by Blackhall Records on 22 July, followed by the Rubik’s Cube EP (digital and limited edition vinyl) on 2 September. Dictator play St Luke’s, Glasgow on 8 September