July 19, 2019

Warnock still resonates strong at one-hundred

James Warnock (centre) presented with a special award from the RSPBA’s Northern Ireland branch from RSPBA NI President Winston Pinkerton (left) and Vice-President Lowry Ferguson for Warnock’s contributions to local and world piping.

James Warnock, the man who is recognized as having revolutionized pipe band chanter reeds with a new “ridge cut” design in the 1960s, celebrated his one-hundredth birthday on July 18, 2019, in his hometown of Cookstown, Northern Ireland.

It was Warnock’s father who encouraged him in the 1960s to try reedmaking as potentially more lucrative than the family’s dairy farming business. The reeds caught on, the business became a roaring success, and versions of original Warnock ridge cut reeds are now offered by many reedmakers worldwide.

The business was boosted by Bill Burnett of Burnett’s Highland Regalia of Ontario, who needed chanter reeds to satisfy demand from the growing Canadian pipe band market, and fed the Northern Ireland company with a steady stream of orders.

The Warnock company was taken over by David Chesney in 2004, and has further developed reeds under the Chesney brand with Chesney Chanters & Reeds.

James Warnock was also a pipe chanter innovator. While the War-Mac chanter was turned on a lathe, the Warnock chanter is thought to be the first plastic chanter created from a mould, using “Marlin 66” material, which was made up of 33% glass, thought to provide better resonance and projection. The Warnock chanter was the beneficiary of Belfast Tool & Gauge Ltd., which created a special system for consistent boring of the holes.

The company also experimented with plastic drones, and the great Bill Livingstone famously competed with a set of Warnock pipes at the Northern Meeting in 1975. Not letting on that he was playing plastic drones, hopping to surprise with a strong showing in the prizes, the test failed due to the pipe mixing cold mid-September Highland external conditions with warm and moist internal air, creating untenable condensation. The performance is believed to be the only one ever at the Northern Meeting delivered with synthetic drones.

Ingenuity runs in the Warnock family. James Warnock’s brother, Andrew, was the creator of the first commercially available synthetic pipe chanter. It was Warnock who, in partnership with Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia current and former pipe-majors Tom and John K. McAllister, developed the “War-Mac” pipe chanter made from Polypenco. The first grey plastic chanters hit the market in the mid-1970s and, with the success of Shotts in competition and on several vinyl albums, the product caught on with bands looking for a more stable and less expensive option to blackwood.

Tom McAllister named his classic four-part 4/4 march, “Andrew Warnock.”

James Warnock received a special presentation from the RSPBA’s Northern Ireland branch, with President Winston Pinkerton Vice-President Lowry Ferguson visiting him at home, honouring his services to world piping and drumming.

Along with Geoff Ross and Murray Blair of Australia, James Warnock is considered one of history’s great innovators of products for the Highland bagpipe.

On behalf of pipers and drummers everywhere, pipes|drums wishes James Warnock a happy one-hundredth birthday — and thank you for all that you have done for piping and drumming!


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