The first CyberTent

With fond memories of a great team
  and thanks to the guys who took the pics

You can now see all the old videos consolidated on YouTube at
Thanks Kobus!

This is a draft of the tale of the Glastonbury Cybertent, to be corrected and updated with a little help from my friends. It has surely been written by others, elswhere, so contributions are welcome from those who took part in creating the Cybertent as well as those who used it. Send reminiscences to me at and I will incorporate them here.

I think it was Tim Murphy who first had the idea. A cybercafe in a tent, at Glastonbury, also hosting a web server on which we would post stills and movies directly during the festival. Back in 1995 fewer people had mobile phones, and many found themselves a bit cut off from the outside world. Getting in and out during the days of the festival was never that easy, so a bank of PCs with email  would be popular. I could add in my email-to-fax system on at least one PC. And phones.

In the spirit of the time, we would set up the tent in the Green Field area and power it with wind and solar. All we needed was an ISDN line run to the field, a router programmed with IP numbers and set up on the end to handle the web server and 8 PCs running the brand new Windows '95 program, a bank of batteries to act as a buffer and reserve and a converter to churn out 240 volts AC.  The team began to form on occasional evenings at Tim's house in Oxford. Tony Jillings from Nielsen, Ivan Fabian from Rutherford Labs, Kobus Nieumeijer. We started an advance website and were soon joined by Glastonbury veteran Dominic Search (who was later to build with Kobus and install Windows 95 on all the PCs in a single evening) and Bill and Suzanne who were pioneers in website and internet applications who turned up on the opening to help with running the whole enchilada.

We had the permission of Michael Eavis, the Festival Organiser, but he did not want to know what we were doing and whenever we met him he just said he hated technology and especially computers, so when we visited the site in advance we kept our heads down and out of his way. The main problems were getting the guys with the solar cells and wind generators, who were to be there anyway, tied down as to just what output we could expect. Then there was the man who had to turn up with batteries on a lorry.... we needed facts and figures.

The router preparation was in the hands of Tony Jillings who got Cisco to produce and program the hardware and software, while Tim, who had a grip on the whole project,  and I liaised with BT and the local tractor driver who would cut the slit trench to run the line from the farm to the field.  This was not as easy as it sounds. We came back to find the trench in the wrong place and then at 4.30 on the Friday afternoon before the final weekend before blast-off, the BT engineers explained to me ruefully that they could not get the line to function. They had been working on it all day, and had to admit defeat. "The trouble it the line is just too long."

I was slightly non-plussed by this. The essential quality of a line is that it is long. Our ISDN line needed to reach from our field to the point where it met a more substantial connection into the Internet Backbone. This might be a local exchange, but at that time Pilton exchange was analogue, not digital, so it had to go further before reaching serious bandwidth on a digital, packet-switched line. I retired to my car with Tim where we had two mobile phones permanently on the go as we struggled with last minute arrangements. I came to the conclusion the BT administrators who had accepted the job and contracted to supply the ISDN line at a reasonable cost must have measured the distance on a map without realising that the telephone lines to Pilton followed an amazingly twisted minor road, making the actual length many times the apparent distance. We had already tried the idea of boosters but that did not seem to be the answer either. We asked the BT engineers what could be done. "Nothing", they said, "short of upgrading Pilton exchange to digital". They did not have the means or authority to do that, but suggested that we rang Martlesham direct to plead our case. But at nearly 5pm on a Friday?.....

We did, eloquently, emphasising that the next week 2 broadcasting companies at least would be needing to use our ISDN line in addition to the live web site which had been advertised for a month in advance.  So the people of Pilton had their exchange upgraded a year or two sooner than planned, rather suddenly that weekend by a lot of guys on overtime, and by Monday morning the engineers had tested our line an pronounced it good.

Construction of the tent was proceeding apace, but we had no power. Ivan had brought a generator (forbidden in the Field but we had pleaded emergency and got permission), but he was stopped at the gate, unable to contact us. We were lent a generator already on the site to enable us to set up our router and test our Internet connection. For a brief moment, it seemed to work, then it died. After examination, Tony pronounced it fried, apparently by a massive voltage overload from a faulty generator. We were dead in the water. But a phone call to Cambridge revealed that Cisco had backed up all the data. The damage was not visible, and they said that if it was the router that was faulty they could take it back and give us another, set up identically. I jumped into my trusty Citroen and drove from Glastonbury to Cambridge and back without stopping. We were now racing against time to finish the tent, install the PCs, connect and test the whole system with the planned power supplies.

We made it with nothing to spare, and the movie clip above shows how popular the tent was. The were even university professors and parliametary secretaries who were able to use it for vital communications during the festival. One other great event which is not featured in the pictures above was our projection using the first LitePro digital projector of sound-generated graphics using the just developed [name?] program. APS from Slough, who supplied the projector for use within the tent, helped us to run a cable to the roof of a caravan from where we projected at night huge moving images onto the Pyramid Tent, synchronised to - in fact generated by - Trance music from various sources. The effect was stunning, and thousands of people gathered to watch and listen for hours.