More gallows defiance. While I’m giving credit where it’s due, this one (like Spencer) came to me from John Kelly’s excellent first album. The original of the song was a chimneysweep and petty thief called Jack Hall, who (the story goes) was hanged alongside a notorious highwayman; the highwayman drew a crowd, and Jack Hall took the opportunity to put in a few boasts of his own.
A lot of versions of this song are openly angry and defiant, with repetitions of the “Damn your eyes!” line. What I liked about John’s version (and tried to emulate here) was the way that it gently brings out the emptiness of “Sam”‘s claims to fame. The ‘cows’ line is typical; apparently ‘cow’ was thieves’ slang for a sixpence, meaning that Sam was boasting about having robbed a grand total of £1. (Some versions have ‘twenty pounds’, which loses this point.) You can almost hear the self-doubt and despair that were below the surface. (Perhaps. Maybe that’s just the way we like to tell the story nowadays.)