Heather Findlay / Joe Payne / Zio

The Y Theatre, Leicester

30 June 2023

It's been three years since I saw Heather Findlay live, so I wasn't going to pass up the chance to see her now, even knowing it's going to be a fairly short support slot. And it's extremely rare to see her completely solo—we can only think of two occasions between us (one of which Heather doesn't even remember!). So however short this set is, it's still going to be special.

In the end, it was very short, just five songs. One from the last Odin Dragonfly album, two brand new. One "you might remember", which I guessed would be Caught in a Fold when she said that. And another old one which I didn't guess or expect, but recognised from literally the first note: Evergreen, including a crowd singalong, and interpolating Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, and Heather's guitar playing is simply amazing.

She gave the impression that she was a bit nervous, this being her first gig since... well, since the one I saw three years ago. But she didn't need to be. Yes, I did notice the couple of fluffed lyrics, but it didn't matter a bit. She's still the best singer in the world, and she sang perfectly.

Joe Payne is up next, with a similarly short set, sitting at the piano. I don't know his music, but I know his voice is amazing so I'm keen to hear his songs. Turns out his songs are pretty amazing too, and surprisingly deep and introspective for someone with such an outwardly jokey, extrovert personality. He left me very impressed

I feel like I ought to make some clever comment about things coming full-circle with Zio, as it was Heather Findlay who made me aware of the band, and now they've invited her to open the first show of their UK tour. But I can't think of anything clever, so I'll let that go.

The first Zio album was a concept album, using multiple vocalists to tell its story. It's the kind of thing you think must remain a studio project, not a live band, because how are you going to assemble all the singers you need to carry it off? How are you going to get Heather Findlay and Joe Payne to come out and do just couple of songs each? Oh. Hold on...

Ok, you've already figured it out.

So, Zio. They are a bunch of phenomenal musicians. Most of the vocals are carried by Hayley Griffiths and Charlie Bramald, and most are duets so they are both on stage for pretty much the whole show. They both have fantastic voices, and they interact really well, not just vocally but in the whole way they play off each other on stage to act out the songs. With the dancing, and acting, and soaring vocal hooks, you almost feel like you're watching a West End musical. Except... here's the unique thing about Zio: behind (figuratively and literally tonight) the singers, there's a band playing intense, powerful, highly techncial progressive metal. It's an amazing combination. Each band member is world-class, and they carry off the fast, intricate music flawlessly. While at the front, Griffiths and Bramald are leaping about like they're in a pop band. It's musically and visually extraordinary, and hugely entertaining.

The show lasts around two hours, and I think they must play almost all of both albums. There's barely a pause in the music all night, songs just segue into one another with no introductions. Joe Payne and Heather come on at various times to sing their parts, and all four singers are together for the uplifting final song.

If I had to pick faults, there are only two: one is that the vocals aren't always balanced, one microphone seems to drop volume occasionally. But it's a minor issue that doesn't detract from the show.

The other fault is the audience. Not that's it's a bad audience—it's attentive and enthusiastic throughout—but it's so small. The venue isn't large, and it's not even half full. It makes me sad, because the band are giving it their all, and they deserve more. They don't let it phase them. Bramald in particular acts like he's playing to an arena crowd and gives 200% effort. And this kind of spectacle deserves an arena crowd. But this is where we are: with this style of music, no matter how well executed, doomed to play out on tiny stages to the tiny crowds that appreciate it. I didn't want to end the review on a negative note, but the situation makes me sad, and I had to say it. This amazing band deserves so much more.

So to sum up: fantastic music, brilliant musicans and singers, hugely entertaining concert. I wish I had managed to see more dates on the tour.