Jack Armstrong was born at Wide Open, north of Newcastle. His father, Robert, also played the Northumbrian pipes. Both worked as colliers at Dinnington Colliery, but a few years after the First World War, Jack managed to get out of the pit and get a job as a chauffeur. This enabled him to spend more time on his hobbies: pipes, fiddle and photography. In the late 20s he won many local prizes and acclaim at piping competitions. In the 40s he started his own folk dance band, the Northumbrian Barnstormers, and in 1948 he became official piper to the Duke of Northumberland, playing at the annual Shrovetide Football at Alnwick.