YORK singer, songwriter, acoustic guitarist and illustrator Rachel Croft releases her long-awaited debut studio album on Friday.

She will launch this Celtic folk-inspired record with a gig at The Crescent community venue, off Blossom Street, on Thursday night, performing with musicians from the recordings sessions.

You may have seen Rachel busking in York city centre, or performing solo at Pairings, or playing with jazz pianist Karl Mullen on the first and third Monday of each month at The Phoenix Inn in George Street, but it takes more than being a familiar face on the York live music scene to bring a record to fruition.

Rachel, 25, went down the crowdfunding route to ensure the "collection of the first 11 songs written between 2014-2017" could see the light of day on compact disc. "Crowdfunding really helped," says Rachel. "I was really concerned that without funding it might have taken a long time to raise the money when I was having to combine it with busking and playing gigs.

"The suggestion came from someone in the USA who'd listened to my music and said, ''Do you have anywhere for a crowdfunding donation?', so I started vlogging, documenting my progress through vlogs for donators.

"To be frank, I didn't know if anyone would support it, but they did. In fact, 96 per cent of it was crowdfunded. That was enough to cover making the album, the album printing and the PR."

Rachel recorded Hours Awake with co-producer and fellow musician Dan Webster at his Paper Plane Records studio from early 2018 onwards, working with such musicians as drummer Neil Scott, bass and double bass player Emlyn Vaughan, cellist Rachel Brown, keyboard player Karl Mullen, violinist Emily Lawler and Chinese synths player Dian Yu.

Dan himself played electric guitar on Only Dreams, the stand-out composition first released as Rachel's debut single in November 2017 with an accompanying video designed, storyboarded and co-edited by Croft.

She had first made her mark as a busker with covers of the likes of Sting's Fields Of Gold, even recording a 12-track covers' album, Live At Paper Plane Records, but she craved the fulfilment of putting her own songs to tape, having started songwriting at 21.

"Definitely there is something very special about playing music that comes from you, and from the experiences of living in York," she says. "I wouldn't want to make a career out of covers."

Rachel had graduated with a first in environmental geography from the University of York, but geography was not to be her calling. "At that time I felt I was running towards a cliff," she recalls.

Born in Nottingham to parents from Bradford and Wakefield, Rachel had found her footing in York, like many students before her. "I got into the music scene in my third year and into illustrating too – when I should have been doing my dissertation, I was doing open-mic nights pretty much every night – and I thought they were the two options most likely to be open to me.

"The alternative was to move back to Nottingham and get a proper job, and that thought made my heart dive, but my parents were really supportive about what I wanted to do."

Combined with her prowess as a musician, Rachel is a self-taught illustrator, working in watercolour and monochromatic pen and ink under the name Croft Illustrated, and these skills can be seen in her black and white album artwork of winter fields, seagulls in flight and crashing waves that accompanies the cover photograph of Rachel (taken by Jono, a 17-year-old with no professional photographic experience by the way).

Rachel has put both her illustrating work and her busking on the backburner, supplanted by her residencies at Pairings and now The Rise restaurant at The Grand Hotel & Spa, as well as her Phoenix nights with Mullen and the Ruby Tuesdays open-mic nights run by Chris Helme at Sotano, Little Stonegate.

Now comes Thursday's launch party. "It's my very first concert with a full band playing my own material, which is really scary but exciting too," she says.

It is the reward for hours awake spent creating songs, whether Rainier Day at four in the morning or Hear Me, the very first song she wrote, with its lyric: "Sweetest sleep and hours awake....what is real and what is only fake."

Charles Hutchinson

Rachel Croft launches Hours Awake at The Crescent, York, on Thursday, supported by Lewis Thresh, at 7.30pm. Box office: thecrescentyork.com/events/rachel-croft/. The album is released on Black Ink on Friday.

Win the album

Courtesy of Rachel Croft, The Press has three signed copies of Hours Awake to be won.

Question: Where was Rachel Croft born?

Send your answer with your name, address and daytime phone number, either on a postcard to Charles Hutchinson, Croft Competition, The Press, 84-86 Walmgate, York, YO1 9YN, or by email to charles.hutchinson@nqyne.co.uk, marked Croft Competition, by February 15. Usual competition rules apply.