In 1953, Alan Bush and his wife, Nancy, visited Newcastle-on-Tyne to do research for their second Opera, 'Men of Blackmoor'. While there were there, Alan Bush met the famous virtuoso of the Northumbrian Small Pipes, Jack Armstrong. Alan Bush immediate wrote the Three Northumbrian Impressions, but these pieces did not receive their first performance until 1979, when Richard Butler, a pupil of Jack Armstrong, played them in the Wigmore Hall.
These Northumbrian Impressions follow out the characteristic chanter scale and drones of the Northumbrian small pipes, a form of bagpipes used in Northumbria. The instrument is intended to be played indoors. The tone is penetrating but very sweet. It differs from the Scottish bagpipes in that the sound from the chanter is discontinuous, even while the drone is playing. This means that rests and staccato are possible in the melody played on the chanter.
The last movement of the work is based upon the Northumbrian pipe-tune, "The Mitford Galloway".