It bears repeating that what used to be the session musician business is now the live backing band business. Observing what goes on with hired hands in high-profile gigs is therefore as useful to my career reflections as reading album performance credits.
One thing that is really striking in both cases is the degree of multi-instrumentalism going on. You might think that you would set out going ‘right, for this gig we need to hire a string quartet, two keyboards, and three backing vocals. Oh, and some additional percussion. Let’s hire them’. But there seems to be much more of an iterative / evolutionary process going on (probably involving a lot of rehiring known performers) in practice. Tambourine-shaking backing singers and BVs-providing keyboardists are fairly standard. But there’s no particular reason why someone should play keyboards and guitar or bass more than any other two instruments (except the popularity of all three I suppose) – yet it’s a commonly found live combination.
For his Glastonbury set, Hozier (I’m not ashamed of watching that coverage; actually I’m not ashamed to have enjoyed it to, though perhaps particularly the bluesy mid-set chunk with open tunings and slides in evidence) had a drummer and two female backing vocalists plus a trio of multi-instrumentalists ringing the changes: one doing bass, keys and (male) vocs; one keys, guitar and (female) vocs; and one cello, keys and (female) vocs. That surely must have at least partly come out of wanting particular people and splitting the set between them, or at least evolving the instrumentation partly to suit the lineup, rather than just ticking the boxes of what the recorded version requires to be played live.
Session credits can be equally lengthy; there are a handful of additional musicians on the most recent Bird Eats Baby album, which I’ve been listening to lately, and the producer is credited with (I think) synths, electronics, additional percussion, additional guitars and additional vocals, while the most adaptable of the other players covers additional violin, viola and additional vocals.
All of which makes my violin-viola double look a little restricted if I’m really serious about this, and think the non-classical world will provide some serious income not just fun pocket-money jobs. Maybe I should have some singing lessons, for the first time in my life. Or do some really serious guitar practice.