USSR 1976 [no label, 1DVD]

Asked why he thought he'd been invited to tour the USSR, at a time when western culture was still very much held at arm's length by the authorities, Cliff Richard made no bones about his reputation. He was, he said, "safely middle of the road, with a clean-cut image and no drug rap. They're still miles away from inviting the Rolling Stones." And this 35 minute black and white Soviet TV broadcast captures his hosts' uncertainty with time-capsule precision. Even if you're not a Cliff fan, it offers a glimpse inside a culture that seems unimaginable today.

A sharply rocking "The Young Ones" is the first of a handful of in concert performances included in the show - later, an energetic "Devil Woman" and a delightfully soulful "Drift Away" serve up further highlights from Richard's then-current I'm Nearly Famous stageshow.

The bulk of the program, however, is taken up with sightseeing footage, capturing Cliff as he is shown around the city, stopping off at a park to lip-synch through a couple of ballads, before being subjected to a supremely awkward interview, in which even his briefest responses must be long-windedly translated by a TV host straight out of the classroom scenes in The Wall. For English-speaking viewers, it drags on a bit - and Cliff's expression suggests that he felt the same way. 

But it's the concert footage that makes this so well worth watching. Though he is certainly appearing before a considerably more restrained audience than he could ever have encountered before, still Cliff puts on as great a show as he ever has, while the local camera crew's lack of experience ensures that there's no fancy filmwork to detract from the performance. In a world that overflows with slickly shot Cliff Richard footage, this disc hits you like a bucket of icy water. And you welcome every drop. - Dave Thompson

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July 6, 2007