Electric Avenue is the Brixton, South London street that gave its name to the song that was No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the summer of 1983. I know the song and started humming it immediately after I spotted this sign above a row of stalls in Brixton Market last summer. However, I did not know about the street.
What a happy coincidence, I thought as I stopped to take this photo. I looked forward to sharing my find with family and friends when I returned home.
A few days later, as I walked down Electric Avenue with one of my cousins, a history buff and a child of Brixton, he pointed to the sign and waving his hand towards the street, announced quite proudly, “This is the first market street in all of Britain to get electricity, that’s why it’s called Electric Avenue. It doesn’t look like much now but can you imagine how it would have looked then?” I couldn’t but he had my attention.
Electric Avenue runs between Brixton Road and Atlantic Avenue. It has had electricity since 1888. Old photos show an elegant, gently curved street of Victorian row houses with distinctive iron canopies.
Now part of Brixton Market, Electric Avenue is a bustling area of street and indoor markets with restaurants, coffee shops, and stalls selling clothing, household goods, meat, fish, vegetables, and produce from Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean. Except for the canopies, which were removed in the 1980s because of damages they had sustained from World War II bombs, Electric Avenue looks much like it did in 1912. The row houses are still there though they’re now partly obscured by vending stalls.
By the time the British Guyanese singer, songwriter and producer, Eddy Grant’s eponymous song became a hit (in 1982 in Britain, 1983 in the US), Brixton had been home to thousands of Caribbean and African immigrants who began pouring into the area in 1948.
With few jobs and poor housing, crime spiraled. In 1981, the police instituted the ‘sus law’ that allowed them to stop and search anyone they suspected of criminal activity. A riot broke out causing hundreds of injuries, damage to property and scores of arrests. Although there is no mention of the word ‘riot’ in Electric Avenue (the song), and no rioting on Electric Avenue (the street) , it is this riot that Grant references.
Electric Avenue is easily accessible from the Brixton Underground and several London bus routes, including the 109, 250, 333 and 415.